By BO Staff Writer
A business family from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh (UP), which grew a business empire in the new democratic South Africa (SA), is a classic case of what excellence in entrepreneurial skills is all about. The Gupta brothers – namely Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta and Rajesh ‘Tony’ Gupta – can easily be termed as turnaround specialists who took over ailing business units from various sectors and turned them around into profitable and sustainable businesses.
The middle brother, Atul Gupta, was born and raised in the city of Saharanpur, UP, in India. He spent time in China to oversee and understand manufacturing processes. In 1993 Atul Gupta was asked by his late father to explore business opportunities in SA on behalf of the family. After spending some time in SA, Atul saw many opportunities for business and social growth in the country.
SA was in an apartheid era until 1994 which saw most of the businesses systematically owned by whites. Moreover the majority of blacks in the country were excluded from the economy. The Guptas who did not have the preferred colour, used their hardwork, ethics and business acumen to enter the South African market at a strategic period and there has since been no looking back.
From a humble start in a garage in Bedfordview, to a multibillion investment company (Oakbay Investments), it has been a roller coaster ride for them. Being entrepreneur at heart, the Guptas embarked on expanding the family business which included starting up the Sahara Group in SA in the mid 1990s which later evolved into the Oakbay Group incorporating interests in information technology (IT), mining, media, engineering, leisure and property. Their visionary approach has led to the rapid growth of the group into a multibillion-rand group in two decades.
People close to them vouch for their hard work, family values, business ethics and risk taking entrepreneurial capabilities and credit them for disrupting the monopolised business environment of SA.. Their unbelievable growth is a story that attracted a lot of negative media attention due to their proximity to the former President of SA, Jacob Zuma. The untransformed media, which is owned by the same old establishments, was used to discredit their growth. To this end there has been a flurry of ‘fake news’ generated to close them down without any proof or evidence. These same media reports were then cited as reasons for ‘reputational risk’ by the top banks so as to close their accounts. All the top 4 banks are privately owned and there is not a single nationalised bank operating in the country. In fact the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) itself has private shareholdings and is not owned by the country’s government, as is the case in most countries of the world.
The Guptas have always maintained that they are caught up in political crossfire and are victims of orchestrated media attacks but are willing to co-operate with any judicial probe to clear their name.
The recent judgment by South African High Court unfreezing Atul Gupta’s account, exposes the media narrative around the Gupta family and how they have been a victim of the toxic business environment which slanders any new entrant with vicious attacks so as to isolate them. The High Court found that the allegations of Gupta businesses being the ‘proceeds of crime’, were unjustified and without any merit. It accordingly set aside its previous preservation order in this respect. It’s a victory for the scapegoat Gupta family who have been blamed for every ailment of the South African economy and victimized by the media kangaroo courts without any logic and rhyme.
It is clear that they are seen as driving the much needed business transformation in SA which has caused an uproar amongst the established elite business classes. The people of SA are in a struggling economy and the case of the Gupta family will further alienate business communities of the world who want to invest in SA. Negative publicity is what this new democracy cannot afford.