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The controversial Gupta family are in the wars again – this time with their neighbours over reportedly “illegal” building extensions to their multimillion-rand compound in the posh suburb of Saxonwold in Joburg.
Irate residents of the leafy enclave have approached the City of Johannesburg over the building extensions which they have derided as “ugly”, and “not in keeping with the character” of the upmarket suburb.
If found to be in violation of building plan regulations, the Guptas face the possibility of having to demolish the newly-built structure, and starting from scratch.
Aggrieved Saxonwold residents are taking their fight to the council’s town planning hearing next week, after the Guptas applied to rectify the illegal alterations to the building, which has apparently already been used to entertain family and friends.
The politically-connected Gupta family – they have close ties to President Jacob Zuma and his family – have courted controversy for several years now, including:
- Talk about their “unhealthy hold” over the president.
- Several of Zuma’s children and extended family serve on the boards of Gupta companies.
- Their growing political influence in the highest spheres of government.
- Their launching of the ruling party-aligned newspaper, The New Age, and its lucrative government advertising stream.
- The launch of the much-derided ANN7 television channel.
l And the Guptagate affair, when a planeload of wedding guests from India was allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force base.
The Saxonwold compound was also in the news earlier this year when the main family residence – a mansion on three levels set on an acre of land – was valued at only R490 000 on the latest municipal valuation roll. This was less than the property was worth in May 1994, when it changed hands for R559 000, and far less than the R16.89 million in a more recent valuation.
In the latest twist, the Joburg council has confirmed that the alterations deviated from the property’s previously approved plans.
According to spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane, the deviations entailed a “marginal” increase in coverage created by roof overhangs and balconies.
In the meantime, the family had been granted conditional temporary occupation, provided their application is successful. But if it is unsuccessful, as some residents of Saxonwold hope, parts of the building would have to be torn down to “revert back to the original approved state”.
But one resident, who did not want to be named, claimed that the size of the building footprint was in fact 170m2 more than was allowed under the Johannesburg Town Planning Scheme. Other violations included height restrictions, a violation of the Architects Act, and a violation of the number of dwelling units per site.
“Two years have passed while the rezoning application has been sitting at the council,” said one resident. “During this time the Guptas have continued to use the illegal building to entertain family and friends, including ministers.
“During this time the council has done nothing to address numerous complaints lodged by the residents, and the Guptas have ignored all requests to rectify the situation.”
Yesterday Gary Naidoo, Gupta family spokesman, said the correct procedures were followed.
“All building regulations were complied with when the dwelling was completed.”
The building plans were initially submitted in May 2009, and were approved within a month – to the surprise of residents. Further plans were submitted for internal alterations in March 2010, and approved in April 2010. Then, a third plan was submitted due to “deviations” undertaken that did not comply with the previously approved plan.
Residents appointed their own experts who investigated the extensions and discovered the plans had been “incorrectly approved” by the council.
After further investigations, the council withdrew the plan approval and issued a stop order. “But this was ignored by the Guptas and the building continued to completion,” a resident alleged.
Penelope Davidof, of the residents’ association, said a town planner would represent it at Wednesday’s hearing. “We’re trying to find a way to deal with it. We are a residents’ association and we don’t take sides. When an issue comes up, it is our job to object…”
Meanwhile, four members of the SANDF were arraigned before a military court yesterday on charges relating to the landing of the private aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.
The four, Colonel Nomsa Khumalo, Lieutenant-Colonel Christo van Zyl, Lieutenant-Colonel Christine Anderson, and a Warrant Officer Ntshisi, appeared for postponement in the court in the Thaba Tshwane military base. A fifth officer, identified as a Colonel Nkosi, was due to appear later.
The group face charges of breaching various dictates of the military defence code after the chartered commercial aircraft, ferrying 270 wedding guests for the wedding of Vega Gupta, 23, and Indian-born Aakash Jahajgarhia, landed at the base in April. - Weekend Argus