The Mpumalanga government is allegedly cosying up to the Gupta family despite all its controversies and is likely to sign a R7 million deal for the publication of its propaganda.
A whistleblower has alleged that the Gupta-owned newspaper, The New Age, has promised the communications unit in Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza’s office a provincial edition that will carry the government’s success stories in three full pages – the front page, page 2 and page 3.
If this deal happens, it will be the first time that Mabuza – suspected to be a member of President Jacob Zuma’s lobby group, the Premier League – and his government directly cut a deal with the Gupta businesses.
Mabuza appears to be close to the Gupta family following a weekend report that he hitched a lift from Moscow on November 14 last year on a Gupta-owned jet. Mabuza was treated for poisoning in Russia and was off sick for two months.
City Press has seen a copy of the whistleblower’s written complaint that alleges that a TNA emissary of two officials made a presentation to the provincial government communicator’s forum on September 28 at the Ehlanzeni District Municipality.
The whistleblower, who is a communicator, has also sent the copy to the Democratic Alliance (DA) to frustrate and derail the proposal through legislature processes.
The deal – which the whistleblower describes as being “dodgy” – entails the distribution of 8000 free copies, training of journalism students from Mpumalanga, and opening of an ANN7 bureau in Mbombela city.
“The heads of communication wanted to know why government should enter into this partnership after TNA announced that they are selling their shares. The most worrying factor is that TNA used the Mpumalanga government’s coat of arms in its presentation and the communicators wanted to know who gave them the permission to do so,” the whistleblower said.
“It was agreed that the government was not ready for such an arrangement. However, the communications unit in the Office of the Premier is proceeding and recommended that the deal must happen. On October 20 a memorandum was prepared by the publications’ manager to be sent to the director-general [Thulane Mdakane].”
The whistleblower said that the deal may happen despite the fact that the government was facing financial constraints.
Because of these constraints vacant posts haven’t been filled and a moratorium is in place – resulting in employees being overworked.
The offices at the Riverside Park government complex are overcrowded. About 200 officials share four printers, lifts are dysfunctional and pool vehicles are battered, reads the complaint.
Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, denied that the government had sealed a deal with TNA.
Mncwango confirmed that TNA made a proposal to publish a daily provincial edition where Mpumalanga government news would “receive prominence”. The government, he said, would subscribe to at least 6000 copies that would be distributed in all government offices, libraries, community centres, hospitals and educational institutions.
“It is our understanding that the paper approached us because it already has similar arrangements with five other provinces – the Western Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West,” Mncwango said.
He said Mdakane had recommended an open bid tender process and allocation of a budget in the 2017-2018 financial year.
“We would not comment on the so-called ‘concerns by the communicators’,” Mncwango said.
An Mpumalanga-based publisher, who declined to be named, said that the government was biased because he had been denied an opportunity to make a presentation to the provincial government communicator’s forum for about three years.
“I’m surprised because I’ve been asking to make a presentation and they have refused,” he said.
Another communicator who attended the forum said: “You know that communicators are like journalists. They question things and that is what happened there.”
Oakbay Investments, which owns TNA and other Gupta family businesses, did not respond to written questions that were emailed last week.
DA provincial leader James Masango said the party would not allow “the capture” of the Mpumalanga government by the Guptas.
“It seems like Premier David Mabuza will finally pay back the Guptas after he hitched a lift from Moscow last year on a Gupta jet,” Masango said.
“This move by the Guptas is a clear indication that it will continue to secure lucrative contracts and strengthen their business dealings with government, despite being the subject of multiple investigations,” he added.
Masango said that “this R7 million new Gupta windfall” was a clear indication that lucrative contracts still flow to the “state capture suspects”.