Bruce’s List: A guide to informed reads.
My friend Stephen Grootes, the radio presenter and journalist, has posted an explosive story on the Internet, describing how he was duped into conducting a video interview with Ajay Gupta, the most senior of the Gupta family we all know and love, in February this year. It’s explosive not just because, with hindsight, it’s clear that Ajay lied during the interview. He feigns barely to know our brief finance minister, David Des van Rooyen, and he cleverly stresses, repeatedly, that minerals minister Mosebenzi Zwane never flew to Switzerland with the family to negotiate the Optimum coal mine acquisition with Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg. What we know now, though, is that while Zwane might not have been on the Gupta aircraft, he was most certainly part of the negotiations, joining up with the Guptas in the talks.
But the most fascinating part of the interview is how it was set up (or how Grootes was set up) by the British public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, and the team it has had advising the Guptas for most of this year. Bell Pottinger doesn’t take prisoners and the more trouble you’re in the more they want to be your adviser. They’d be charging the Guptas around £100,000 a month for their help, with up to four people on the ground in SA at times. They once advised FW de Klerk. Oscar Pistorius was a client. So was, long ago but strangely enough, Johann Rupert’s Richemont. The team approached Grootes and offered him an interview with a VIP but wouldn’t tell him who it was until he signed a nondisclosure agreement. And they would film the interview and reserve the right to edit it. Instead of running away from that, as he should have, Grootes agreed to do it, on condition he could take along his own recorder just in case their edit was biased. They agreed, on condition that he would only get the recording when the interview aired (on the Gupta TV station, ANN7 no doubt).
This was all in February, remember, before Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture was published and before we knew, for certain, just how people like Van Rooyen and departing Eskom boss Brian Molefe sucked up to them. The interview has now somehow found its way onto YouTube and Grootes has felt, finally, able to write about it with a clear conscience. It is, frankly, not a good interview. Ajay was able to bat away most of Grootes’ questions with the sort of hurt sincerity the Guptas practise as a family. It is easy to lie to journalists if you have more information than they do. Anyway, here is Grootes, and embedded in his story is the video of the interview.
Big mistake. What the Bell Pottinger people didn’t appreciate about Grootes is how deeply honest he is. He doesn’t lie and he doesn’t cheat. Ever. If ever there was a South African journalist with iron-clad integrity it is him. They never gave him his recorder back and knowing him I can just imagine how frustrated and angry he must have been all these months. The interview has now backfired terribly on Bell Pottinger, showing up their client in the worst possible light if you take the Madonsela report into account.
And just to make his day, I have a news snippet for Grootes. Bell Pottinger will shortly resign its contract with the Guptas, I hear, and will hand it over to its senior Africa partner (and part of the current Gupta team) Victoria Geoghegan. She says that is rubbish, and it may be, but the Gupta account isn't that popular inside the Bell Pottinger empire and in a way the move or something like it would complete a small but fascinating circle in the wider story of how the Guptas operate in SA. It was Victoria’s dad, Chris Geoghegan, a well-known British executive with property in SA, who introduced Bell Pottinger to the Guptas. He was introduced to the Guptas, in turn, by an old business associate and Gupta ally, Fana Hlongwane. Hlongwane is most famous for being accused of channelling around R200m in commissions from British Aerospace to facilitate the infamous arms deal of the late 90's. And who was chief operating officer of British Aerospace from 2002 to 2007 after a long career with the company? Chris Geoghegan! All legal and proper, of course. And of little actual consequence. But what goes around comes around and it is comforting to be reminded of that.
Someone tweeted yesterday that from the moment he takes his oath of office, Donald Trump will be in conflict with the US constitution. He just cannot separate his politics from his business. When he met the right-wing UK politician Nigel Farage just three days after winning the US presidential election he complained about a wind farm spoiling the view from a new Trump golf course in Scotland. Now (and this will hugely irritate British prime minister Theresa May) he has publicly suggested that Farage become the new UK ambassador to Washington. Can you imagine? And if you read this column regularly you’ll remember a piece last week on the gaudy new hotel Trump has built in view of the White House. It was virtually empty when Vanity Fair reviewed it but with Trump becoming president, apparently, the hotel is the new hot place to be seen in Washington, with diplomats from around the world queuing to get in and taste its finery. Trump, meanwhile, is suing the city for a lower rent. That means that he’ll soon be suing himself.
And you have got to love this. For all those closet optimists who think Trump might actually prove to be a more reasonable president than he was a candidate, this story is there to wake you up. His plans for a register of Muslims and a total crackdown on certain migrants into America were caught on camera.