Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Republic of Gupta hit the shelves two months ago, so this book review is fashionably late and, in the greater scheme of things, is unlikely to serve any discernible purpose.
My tardiness is inconsequential.
So too, is the publication of this book – which is actually a splendid read – and all the reporting on its subject matter. You see, once you are done with all 263 pages, you are forced to try and come to terms with the one very painful reality that Myburgh highlights consistently in his book – we are all just too late.
We missed it.
We thought nothing of the Gupta links to the International Marketing Council of South Africa, we missed Mbeki’s so-called Secret Council, we missed the rise of Sahara Computers (many thought it part of the Indian company), we missed the Gauteng Online Schools Project that contributed to that company’s rise.
During President Jacob Zuma’s rise to the helm of the African National Congress, the Shaik family was all the rage. That seems like an all too distant memory now.
Very little was ever said about Zuma’s potential ties to the Gupta family. And if there is any truth to Myburgh’s account on how this relationship developed, then the only people South Africans can and should blame are themselves.
The manner in which Myburgh has structured this book highlights the apparently desperate need to rid South Africa of Gupta politics, but it does not deal with the greater risk that actually presents itself here. In fairness, it never intended to.
As South Africans continue their obsession with the Guptas, other relationships are probably being forged behind closed doors. Nobody knows who the key players are and who they work for.
So, in the same way that the Guptas slipped in while South Africa was still obsessed with the Shaiks, there is every possibility of another family exploiting the opening that has been created by the ongoing battle with the Guptas.
The first three parts of Myburgh’s book chronicle the early years of the Gupta travels in South Africa, some of the friendships that were established and business relations that were forged. These sections also tap on some of the business dealings that the Gupta family had with government during those early interactions.
For many years, the movements of the Guptas went largely undetected. Reported on by some, perhaps questioned by those who were directly affected, but never with the reforming zeal that South Africans are consistently exposed to today.
Warterkloofgate makes its first real appearance on page 115 in this book. In the same way that the tempo or the pace of the script increases dramatically in this chapter, the real life story of the Guptas has also played out in that fashion.
Many South Africans will never admit it, but there is the distinct possibility they were completely unsuspecting of the Guptas until that plane landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof. It might or might not be a deliberate technique by Myburgh in this case, but the manner in which he has structured this read captures that element quite well.
Myburgh has no doubt spent an enormous amount of time doing the research and putting it all together in this book. For that, he deserves a considerable amount of credit. It really is an effective one-stop shop for those who have not followed the reporting on the Guptas intensely.
But for those who have followed the developments, the book might be a touch disappointing, as it deals with aspects that they are already familiar with, anonymous sources, hearsay, allegations and quite frankly leaves one walking away with more questions than answers.
The success of the book ultimately hinges on what it is that the author was trying to achieve. If he was trying to shed more light on the saga, then it probably did not achieve. A lot of the things he writes about are well known by now.
However, if Myburgh was trying to help develop critical thinking and encourage South Africans to question things more and be more politically engaged, then the book might succeed. The book is compelling and very well written. You would have to be incredibly stubborn to walk away from it not wanting to know more.
Surely, after reading this, South Africans will understand that this entire conversation cannot just be about the Guptas. The line between good business and corruption is a very thin one. The South African government deals with big business all the time.
Question everything. If we don’t, the circumstances that have presented themselves here will manifest themselves again, long after the Gupta family has gone.
About the author:
Pieter-Louis Myburgh is an award-winning investigative journalist who works for News24.
Author: Pieter-Louis Myburgh
Published: April 2017
Recommended Price: R260.00
By Siya Mchunu