Friday, April 30, 2010

South African President Jacob Zuma in Talks Over ANC Newspaper

Zuma in talks over ANC paper


The Gupta group, regarded as close to President Jacob Zuma, is considering launching a daily newspaper that sources say will be broadly sympathetic to the ANC.

Speaking on behalf of his brother, Atul, who is abroad, Tony Gupta said: "Yes, there is a feasibility study we are doing … we have hired some advisers, but nothing is decided yet."

Gupta was responding to queries from amaBhungane concerning a meeting at Atul Gupta's Saxonwold, Johannesburg, home allegedly involving Gupta, or his brother, Ajay; Zuma; and Jessie Duarte, Zuma's chief operating officer at the time.

The Gupta group controls Sahara Computers, but also publishes The Thinker, a magazine edited by Essop Pahad, a close ally of former president Thabo Mbeki.

A well-placed source claimed that Zuma and Duarte attended a meeting at Gupta's home on February 20 this year and that a newspaper was under discussion.

The source claimed that a lawyer was also present to give advice on possible legal obstacles to providing government advertising to support the publication.

On Thursday Duarte vehemently denied attending such a meeting.

"I've never been in any meeting with the president of the ANC at Mr Gupta's house and have not discussed a newspaper project with Mr Gupta."

Duarte, who officially resigned from the presidency this week, said: "I have been to Gupta's house once, before I left Luthuli House. It was in connection with The Thinker magazine.

"Essop was involved and the meeting was about setting interviews [with senior ANC figures], which was part of my role at the time. I've never been at Gupta's house in the presence of the president and I have nothing to do with Gupta at all."

She denied knowing anyone called Rob Appelbaum, the lawyer who allegedly attended the meeting.

Appelbaum confirmed that the Guptas were clients, but said: "I cannot recall such a meeting." He said that even if he had such a meeting, client confidentiality would prevent him from disclosing it.

Tony Gupta also denied Duarte or Zuma's involvement. He insisted that the newspaper idea was "not an ANC project" and that no such meeting with Zuma took place.

Questioned whether there had been any meeting with Zuma on February 20, a Saturday, Gupta said he was out of the country but would check his brothers' movements.

He later insisted there had been no such meeting with Zuma and Duarte, adding that he was "not sure" whether Zuma visited on February 20.

A detailed message sent to presidential spokespeople Vincent Magwenya and Vusi Mona was unanswered.

Gupta said the project was being led by Pahad and "has nothing to do with the ANC or President Zuma".

Pahad confirmed that he was researching the possibility of launching a daily, but appeared unaware of any consultants being hired, saying: "I do my own research." He said he had "not looked at the funding side".

The ANC has long cherished the idea of establishing a broadly sympathetic newspaper and Duarte confirmed she was involved in discussions about this last year. "We dropped it entirely because there was no money for it. I have no idea what has happened since then and I haven't even been involved in the ANC media committee."

It is understood the party engaged professional consultants and considered a variety of funding sources, including the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation and Public Investment Commission. The view was that commercial funding would also have to be found.

The Mail & Guardian has previously reported that the Guptas took Zuma's twins, Duduzane and Duduzile, under their wing after Zuma's defeat of Mbeki at Polokwane. Duduzile serves on the Sahara board, while Duduzane shares mining interests with the Guptas.

Chaotic administration

Meanwhile, Mandy Rossouw reports that this week's resignation of Duarte, second in charge in the presidency, throws the spotlight on the chaotic administration of South Africa's highest office.

Duarte quit this week to pursue "other interests", although it is an open secret that she butted heads with Zuma's long-standing confidante and aide, Lakela Kaunda, head of his private office in the Union Buildings.

Insiders said that Duarte had also clashed with presidency director general Vusi Mavimbela and claimed Kaunda and Mavimbela "teamed up against her".

After Duarte allegedly complained to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe about being "bullied", Zuma is said to have intervened, telling Duarte to "sort things out", but without supporting her claims of a plot against her.

Sources say Zuma's expanded presidency, larger and more complex than Mbeki's, is a source of tension among administrative staff.

"We have four principals -- the president, deputy president and two ministers. One minister will eventually have a separate department (monitoring and evaluation) but is also responsible for the administration of the presidency, while the planning commission remains under the presidency. This creates a difficult working environment."

The new structures have spawned confusion over mandates and who reports to whom.

Insiders said this lay at the heart of tensions between Duarte and Kaunda.

Although Kaunda is closer to Zuma and has instant access to him, Duarte, as chief operating officer and acting director general when Vusi Mavimbela was away, was the senior official.

Previously the head of the president's private office played a less significant role and Duarte assumed that she had the upper hand -- especially as she is an ANC national executive committee member.

A presidency source said that such a complex structure requires strong administrative leadership. Mavimbela, a relative political outsider, does not feel as empowered as Mbeki's former director general and close confidant, Frank Chikane.

Duarte's colleagues said she was not suited to being chief operating officer because of the "menial and tedious" nature of the job.

"She is more of a politician than an administrator," they said.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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