In its final report, released on Wednesday, the Zondo Commission found that former President Jacob Zuma acted in breach of the Executive Ethics Code in relation to TNA Media and the ANN7 TV station, placing himself in a situation of a conflict of interest, and abused his position as president of the country.
Further, the Guptas – who were friends with Zuma – used this close relationship to extend their business interests and involved his son, Duduzane Zuma, in their businesses.
The Guptas launched into media as soon as they arrived in South Africa, establishing TNA Media which owned The New Age newspaper and a TV channel, ANN7. Soon thereafter they entered into an agreement with the SABC, charging massive amounts to government departments for disseminating news that would previously have been aired for free.
Zuma testified that he found that the Gupta entities were “a good venture that could be beneficial to the public at large …” and that there was “nothing corrupt or untoward about his involvement or association with the Gupta family”.
Zuma further testified that South African media is very biased, and very negative. Zuma asked the Guptas if they could establish a newspaper, and they agreed. He made Gwede Mantashe, then Secretary-General of the ANC, aware of this. Zuma suggested the name New Age to the Guptas, “it was me who put them into trouble because I said your paper is so successful. I am sure your TV thing can be successful and they agreed”.
Zuma claimed, “ANN7 brought fresh air in the country in terms of reporting”.
TNA contract was prejudicial to the SABC
The SABC and TNA commenced doing business together in 2012 without a contract, with the SABC hosting the TNA breakfast briefings. Eventually, a three-year contract was put in place.
The commission found that the contract between the SABC and TNA was “irregular and created for the benefit of TNA Media and the Gupta family …”, adding that “there is no doubt that the SABC lost revenue and incurred unauthorised expenditure”.
TNA was given free air time. The SABC gave TNA free marketing and carried all costs, using SABC vehicles and equipment and SABC crew who had to attend to the filming, recording and broadcast of the TNA events.
TNA called the shots and the SABC acquiesced.
Atul Gupta twisted the SABC’s arm
Rajesh Sundaram, employed by Infinity Media to help establish ANN7, provided important evidence to the Zondo Commission. He testified that “Atul Gupta had twisted the arm of the SABC” for him to run a question-and-answer breakfast show, featuring various officials from government departments and SOEs.
Costs were borne by those government departments and SOEs.
Sundaram, in his book ‘Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV’, claimed that the New Age Business Briefing broadcast was a cash cow for the Guptas. Sundaram’s book was given the status of evidence as he testified under oath that the contents were true and correct.
Sundaram claimed that Zuma influenced the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to give advertising business to the Gupta entities. The IEC however claimed that a “series of advertising campaigns was pursued through various media houses and was not exclusive to TNA …”
SABC sold archive content to the Guptas ‘very cheaply’
The SABC also sold archival content to TNA Media. When Afrotone Media (subsequently changed to Afro World) bought ANN7, it acquired this content, and utilised it.
The SABC sold archive content to Gupta family company Infinity Media, at a “very cheap” price. Sundaram stated that Duduzane Zuma owned 30% of Infinity Media.
Sundaram further testified that a Gupta joint venture partner, Mr L Goel, told him that “their company” had concluded an agreement with the SABC for the purchase of video content for “peanuts”. This included “priceless footage” of former President Nelson Mandela, which “would be worth millions of dollars”.
Sundaram said that Nazeem Howa of Infinity Media informed him that due to the “close relationship between the Guptas and President Zuma”, the SABC wouldn’t “dare to question this deal”.
The relationship between Zuma and the Guptas
Sundaram was part of a delegation that had three meetings with Zuma at his official residence in Pretoria to discuss ANN7, including progress reports, editorial content, and to “subtly show” rival outlets in a negative light.
Sundaram also testified to a more detailed second affidavit, dealing with four meetings held between Zuma and the ANN7/New Age teams, and members of the “Gupta delegation”. Sundaram provided details of furniture and even remembered an isiZulu phrase used by Zuma, and had the impression that the Guptas had “fairly-free access to the President’s residence”.
Some of the items discussed at the first meeting included getting “hard-to-convince ministers and officials” to attend the New Age business briefings.
At the second meeting Nazeem Howa asked Zuma to recommend journalists and presenters, and Zuma mentioned former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Mzwanele ‘Jimmy’ Manyi, and “offered to speak to him regarding talk-shows”.
Duduzane Zuma attended the third meeting, “but his interventions were not serious”.
After the launch of ANN7, Sundaram resigned and returned to India. “What really pushed him was the violation of editorial integrity and dubious commercial dealings at ANN7”, according to the Zondo report.
When Sundaram first met Atul Gupta and Nazeem Howa at the Gupta office in Midrand on 4 June 2013, Atul informed them that he couldn’t appoint any of them as head editor because South Africa is a very racist country and wouldn’t respond well to foreign nationals heading up a media house.
Visa applications for Guptas’ Indian employees irregularly processed
Sundaram testified that he was informed that the Guptas had an arrangement with the High Commissioner in South Africa, and he would be given an ‘intra-company’ visa, which he duly received.
Sundaram wrote in his book how Gupta associate Ashu Chawla “could pull strings in government”. This included the irregular issuing of visas.
The Zondo Commission made a number of recommendations, including that the SABC should consider instituting legal proceedings against TNA Media, and of its directors, and recover all the costs.