200 guests of the Gupta family landed at the Air Force Base Waterkloof in a chartered plane. File picture: Herbert Matimba/Independent Media

Denis Beckett suggests that we get our facts straight before we accuse the Guptas of sorcery.


Anyone whose grasp of current affairs exceeds Beyoncé’s boyfriends and Trump’s tweets knows the Guptas are barratrous corrupt devious felonious infamous knavish low-down rascally simoniacal unsavoury scoundrels. Like you now know that I have a thesaurus.

Well, maybe we missed the “simoniacal” and/or the “barratrous”.

Nevermind, I have a dictionary too, hiding in a thin black box along with a telephone and a TV and all the knowledge in the world. Simony is priests selling pardons and barratry is gross negligence by the master or crew of a ship at owners’ or passengers’ expense.

I can’t personally guarantee that any Guptas are priests or masters of ships, but I know they must be, because the public declares them guilty of every sin in the book, and the thesaurus defines these as sins.

I do, however, notice that when the Gupta sins are retailed to the public, you see a lot of the word “perceived”.

Their “perceived influence” comes from their “perceived links” in their “perceived role” in apparently a new version of the old press myth that if you say “alleged” enough you can’t be sued.

When in the interests of sheer simple fair-mindedness you look behind the “perceived” for what laws they’re deemed to have broken, the road withers a bit.

They own a TV station that is criminally irritating. While a prof is explaining Syria, the cricket score runs down the right and exchange rates flicker on the left and Hillary Clinton floats across the top, and the tickertape below is breaking news on Beyoncé’s boyfriend. Causing dizziness may be a grievous bodily harm, but I doubt it’s an actionable one.

They own a newspaper that grievously harms itself through a quixotic policy of equal treatment for all nine provinces, though I don’t think there’s an anti-quixotic law, yet, is there?

As for the borrowing of Waterkloof, I’d object if bribery came in, but not if someone needing a one-off landing made an offer for use of a runway with spare capacity. I’m fine with my state saying: “Great, we boost the public purse while also giving innocent thanks to an investor who generates wealth, pays tax, and employs people.”

Anyway, if rules were broken in the assenting, that’s one thing, but what rule was broken by asking?

Googling Gupta produces perceptions galore, of a cabinet bowing and scraping to the squires of Saxonwold. Which I can’t believe.

Many ministers are presumably over-promoted, and respond in the unstable ways that that status induces, but I can’t accept that all except Pravin are abject wusses shivering in terror of deals that their boss is perceived-alleged to have with this family.

Google also reveals a small, sad, apparently new (February 8), defence site. The family relocated to South Africa in 1993, committing itself to “a new patriotic fervour”. It has paid R1.5 billion in tax; has “one of the world’s most respected”, though unnamed, auditors; employs 4 500; and can’t see why it’s attacked for making the highest offer for a troubled mine that supplies 1.3 percent of Eskom’s coal (while the Big Five share 80 percent).

I googled Sahara, the supposed engine of the family’s wealth. People say “no one has seen a Sahara computer”. I now see why. Sahara doesn’t make computers. It is a “conduit” linking the products of LG, Toshiba, Sony, HP et al to “6 000-plus channel partners”.

It’s possible there’s something sickening in this story, affecting the pinnacle of state. If so, be confident (and grateful) that the press will find it. But let’s be sure that these people are not what they say they are, before we grab our verbal pitchforks and rush into witch-hunt.

* Beckett is a writer and journalist

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star