File image: India's Bank of Baroda. Reuters.
Pretoria - A high court decision that paved the way for India’s Bank of Baroda to close its operations in South Africa has left the Gupta employees in limbo, panicking about how they are going to be paid this month.

On Monday, the Pretoria High Court dealt the Guptas a major blow, ruling that the bank could not be compelled to continue operating in the country if it did not want to.

The embattled Gupta family approached the court on an urgent basis in a bid to block the bank from closing shop in the country and formally cutting ties with them, just as the country’s big four banks also did, leaving the family with no banking services for their businesses.

Judge Ntendeya Mavundla said the court could not force the Bank of Baroda, set to close all its South African operations by the end of this month, to stay in the country.

“The decision by the re- spondent (Bank of Baroda) to exit the South African banking sector, cannot, in my view, be interfered with by the courts. Put differently, the courts cannot compel the respondent to keep the doors of its business open for whatever duration,” he said.

Read: Gupta-linked companies fail to prevent Bank of Baroda from pulling out of SA

“I further conclude that the balance of convenience by far outweighs that of the applicants and tilts in favour of the respondent. Consequently, I refrain to exercise my discretion in favour of the applicant and accordingly decline to grant them the relief sought,” Judge Mavundla said.

About 20 Gupta-linked companies were serviced by the bank, owned by the Indian government.

The companies included Infinity Media Networks, which owned ANN7 and The New Age newspaper; Sahara Computers; Optimum Coal Mine; and Tegeta Exploration & Resources, among other companies.

Last year, the bank informed the family about its intentions to terminate their relations, raising concerns about the negative publicity the Guptas had been attracting in connection with state capture.

Read more: Bank of Baroda finally explain why they are leaving SA

Mzwanele Manyi, owner of ANN7 and The New Age newspaper, said his employees were not affected.

The media outlets were founded by the Guptas and sold to Lodidox, Manyi’s company.

“Not at all, because we’re not a Gupta company.

“I think this thing was affecting Gupta companies. We’re not a Gupta company, so we’re very far from it,” he said.

Manyi told The Star that the bank accounts of ANN7 and The New Age were not with the Bank of Baroda.

“I had a meeting to tell the staff that this will be the clearest sign that we’re not a Gupta company. This will give you the clearest sign that we’re not,” Manyi said.

Meanwhile, the committee investigating allegations of state capture indicated on Monday that it would wrap up its work by the end of this month even without testimonies from former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, the three Gupta brothers and former SA Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni, who has failed to pitch up on more than one occasion.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba was on Tuesday expected to face a grilling from MPs on allegations that he helped the Guptas to capture state-owned enterprises.

The chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, Lungi Mnganga-Gcabashe, said: “We have tried to accommodate them (Gupta brothers and Myeni) many times. There is nothing we can do. The timeline we gave ourselves is to wrap up the inquiry by the end of March, and we will do that. The judicial commission will have to cover where we are lacking, as they have a broader scope.”

Also read: Bank of Baroda exit - Is the Gupta net closing

On Monday, lawyers representing the Guptas told the inquiry’s chairperson, Zukiswa Rantho, that the brothers would not appear at the Eskom inquiry as they were currently not in the country.

The committee also received communication that Duduzane would not appear before the inquiry.

DA’s Natasha Mazzone said the three could run but could not hide. She said the DA would not rest until the Guptas, Duduzane, Myeni and Salim Essa, a Gupta associate, had appeared before the committee and been held accountable for their roles in state capture.

EFF MP Mzingisi Dlamini said: “As the EFF, we will go to all the necessary and available avenues to ensure that Gigaba and the Guptas are held accountable, including going to court.”

Dlamini added: “If the president decides it’s fine that Malusi can lie to the nation and life goes on, there are other avenues. Our judicial system is working, we will go to court.”

Political Bureau