Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Multichoice? More like Nochoice, but not any more.

Like many ordinary South and Sub-Sharan Africans, I have grown disillusioned with Multichoice and their selection of DStv packages months, years actually, ago and for us as a family it all started with the age old daily battle of the telly and not the one where you fight over whose turn it was to choose what to watch. No, for us it was the battle between the television and the books, because any parent will tell you that they simply do not feel like coming home after a full day’s work and fighting with the kids because they sat in front of the TV all day and did not do their homework. So we decided to switch the damn thing off during the school term and only have it on during the holidays.

Sure, we had the same doubts you do and the same questions running through our minds. "But what will we do?" we asked ourselves and the answer is that there is actually a lot to do if you don’t have that distraction in your life. We actually talked, paid attention to one another and did things together as a family again, instead of sitting in front of the TV and politely ignoring each other; we finally took an interest in each other’s days and lives again, sans fighting with the kids over their lack of "academic responsibility." There was peace in our house again, for the most part, and it worked extremely well, until Multichoice decided to once again throw a spanner into the works.

In all its monopolistic glory, Multichoice decided that you can no longer disconnect your service anytime you wanted but had to schedule your disconnect for the end of the current month. While even that was workable for us for a time, the ludicrous price increases over the past year or three were simply too much given the worsening economy and we decided that that was it, we would go without Multichoice and DStv from then on in.

Then towards the last quarter of last year, however, something amazing happened; video on demand service Showmax was launched in South Africa and it also became possible to watch a domestic version of Netflix without having to resort to geo-masking and other grey areas of the law in order to watch Netflix proper. So that is the route we ultimately went. I ordered a 2Mbps ADSL line from Telkom, subscribed to an uncapped data package from Openweb and purchased subscriptions for both Netflix and Showmax.

I realize that this is completely new territory for most people in South Africa since we seem to be lagging far behind the rest of the world in terms of these technologies and services, so I was rather apprehensive about the whole thing since day one, but six months later and I am as happy as the proverbial pig in shit. What follows is my own customer “review” and overall experience of all four of my service providers for all of you who are still wondering whether keeping your DSTV package is really worth it and as you read through this, keep in mind that the current price for the Premium DStv Package (with Explora access fee) will set you back around R844.00 per month. Also, please note that I am not an employee of any of the service providers listed below, nor do I get paid for any references I provide, I am naught but an extremely happy customer of theirs.

2Mbps Telkom ADSL Line (R359.00 P.M.)
Seeing as how I live in the sticks, I hreally had no choice but to go for the Telkom line and this is perhaps the one aspect that I was most apprehensive about, because, well, it is Telkom and all that goes with it, but I can honestly tell you that it is really not as bad as people make it out to be. I was lucky insofar that I already had the physical phone line installed at my home, so my line activation and ADSL access was up and running within a week and ever since then I enjoyed a very consistent service. There is a period during the day however, normally between the hours of 5 pm and 7 pm, where the speeds are a bit slow, but this is due to everyone getting home and using their lines for emails, a bit of internet surfing et cetera and it might very well be different in your area of residence. In my opinion, however, it is really not bad enough to disqualify Telkom as a decent service provider or to make the entire Video on Demand route a bad option. You very quickly learn to live with it, just like you learn to live with all service interruptions. Also note that the price quoted above includes the normal rental for a phone line, but I have seen reports that Telkom is considering offering clients a stand-alone data line, which would see a marked reduction in the monthly cost and if this should happen, we could see a cost reduction of as much as 25%, but this is a personal speculation.

That being as it may, I am happy overall and would rate the service that I’ve gotten from them at 8/10.

Openweb 2Mbps Home Uncapped Premium Package (R399.00 P.M.)
This is really simple. Out of all my experiences with Internet Service Providers over the years, whether they be mobile or fixed line, Openweb comfortably sits at the top of the pile. The consistency and speed of the service is truly first world, if need be you can receive help from their technical support team even over the weekends and setting up the account isn’t just a breeze, it’s a gale force wind; yes, we are talking same day activation and I was ready to go in less than two hours.

Openweb does offer a truly uncapped, unthrottled package, even in the event where you hit your “soft cap” and your service is shaped for the remainder of the month. For those of you who do not know what this means, it simply means that Openweb prioritises your type of data usage during business hours in order to prevent one or two clients from "hogging" the network to the detriment of other clients. During such times, your normal email service and web browsing would remain unaffected, but other more intense activities like peer-to-peer file downloads and video on demand services are considered a lower priority and is therefore offered at a lower speed, but fear not because unless you watch obscene amounts of video on demand or download lots of large files, you are not very likely to hit your monthly soft cap. As a matter of fact, having the kids in front of the telly all the time over the weekend consumes around 10GB of data, while the soft cap for the 2Mbps Home Uncapped Premium Package stands at a whopping 140GB. For the gamers out there who download larger files, Openweb also offers "Download Heaven," which basically means that all data consumed between the hours of midgnight and six a.m. does not contribute to your monthly soft cap.

10/10 in terms of service and just about the only drawback Openweb currently has is that it does not offer an email service like some of the other ISP’s, but with the vast array of free email services available online, this is more a non-issue.

Showmax (R99.00 per month)
Showmax is, to be honest, a bit of an iffy proposition since it is a subsidiary of Naspers and hence from the same stable as Multichoice (DStv), which we are all looking to get away from, but it certainly has one thing going for it that you just cannot find anywhere else. Showmax currently boasts what is (in my experience anyway) the biggest library of Afrikaans (my actual first language) content anywhere in the world. Any Afrikaans person under the age of forty will recall with fondness how we watched shows like Wiekie, Brankanjan, Wielie Walie and Liewe Heksie as children or modern series like Orion and Transito as adults; Showmax currently has them all and then some, but if you are more a fan of international series, you are in for a let-down, because the service does not have the newest seasons of these series available and from a marketing perspective this makes total sense, since Naspers is still showing all this newest content on DStv and if those were available on Showmax, they would stand to lose a ton of money because why pay almost ten times as much to watch it on DStv when you can watch it online for a fraction of the cost? Given the monthly subscription fee though, this is also not enough to disqualify Showmax as a viable alternative to DStv.

I also understand that Showmax had some teething problems when it first started out, but those seem to be a thing of the past and its app is currently available on an ever growing series of devices. You can basically download the Showmax App on any video playing hardware that utilizes the Android operating system, while Apple users can download the app onto their iPhone, iPad or newer versions of the Apple TV and for those using the older incarnation of the Apple TV, it is now possible to Airdrop Showmax to your Apple TV using your iPhone or iPad. For the gamers out there, Showmax have said that they are currently developing applications for both the Playstation 4 and X-Box One. Also noteworthy is that Showmax allows you to download up to 25 series episodes to watch during times when you might be unable to stream them to your device, like when you’re traveling for instance. Account setup and registration was ridiculously easy.

All in all, I’d score Showmax a 6.5/10 for content and app availability, with an 8/10 for video quality and that’s only because I’ve not tried any High Definition streaming from them, which is not something that I’d even consider trying on the 2Mbps line.

Netflix (Around R120.00 P.M)
Truth be told, anyone with experience of Netflix Proper (or the USA version of Netflix) would be hugely disappointed with the content offered by the local incarnation of the service, since it offers about one third of he content offered by its US counterpart and none of the newest seasons/episodes, but that is due to a reason that is just about good enough to absolve the local clone. Netflix entered into the local market at a time when the broadcasting rights to certain series and movies were locked down during the previous rounds of broadcasting rights negotiations with Multichoice having sole broadcasting rights to the majority of movies and series for some time to come, but as time passes by and contracts are renegotiated, I am sure that this will change and do so rapidly. At the moment, however, there is very little to choose between Netflix and competitor Showmax, with the latter probably being the better choice at the moment if you watch Afrikaans TV. This is, as I’ve mentioned, set to change in the very near future and the cost of the service is, again, not so high that it would disqualify Netflix out of hand.

The one thing Netflix does have going for it, that the local competitor currently lacks, is the availability of its app, which is already available on just about every platform you can imagine, thus scoring 10/10 for that particular aspect. I would rate content 5/10 and video quality 8/10 (for the same reason as with Showmax).

A bit of arithmetic would quickly tell you that the video on demand streaming option with one of the two providers would cost you about the same as you are currently paying for your DStv subscription (depending on your chosen packages), but in our particular case, this conversion came with a different advantage that I never even thought of at the beginning and that is that we no longer have to purchase mountains of mobile data for the computer, tablets or cellphones in the house. All in all, we’re saving about R750 every month, since all the data now flows through the local Wi-Fi Hotspot we have at home and for everyone considering making this move, I would suggest factoring the cost of your total monthly data usage into the equation to get a fairer picture of whether or not making this move would be worth it for you. There are, however, two elephants in the room that I have not yet addressed and that is, firstly, the matter of the sport shown on DStv and this is perhaps the one thing that prevents many people from ditching Multichoice altogether.

For the casual sports watcher, there is always the option of the Local Watering Hole or a friend’s house to watch the weekend’s big game, but for the fanatic or if the watering hole doesn’t strike your fancy on a particular day, there are a vast host of free live sport streaming websites that offer much more content and variety than Supersport can ever dream of. Why just this weekend we watched the Supersport broadcast of the Third Test between the Springboks and Irish, albeit with Sky Sports commentary, but really, what difference does that even make? As I said, there are many of them, but my preferred provider in this case has to be sport365.live and all you need to enjoy it is any piece of hardware that comes with a browser. For that particular game, I used the HDMI output on my laptop to connect it to the TV and we watched the entire match without a single interruption of service and no discernible difference between that and a traditional television broadcast either. 

The second question on everyone’s mind is the costs associated with setting up this system at home and while there are certainly hardware costs associated with this, it is not as high as you would expect and you can even set this up over a period of time. You certainly do not have to do all of this at once.

Okay, so the first things you’ll need are your ADSL line and router if you do not yet have one or both installed at your home. A decent Wi-Fi capable router would set you back around R900.00, while the installation costs of a Telkom line is R620.00, while it is indeed possible that those of you living in the larger urban areas could find a cheaper fixed line provider or perhaps a cheaper fibre or wireless option, I cannot attest to any of that. You could also pay R792 to have a Telkom technician set up your router for you, but this is really not necessary as setting it up yourself is a very straightforward process, even if you are not tech savvy. This is really all the hardware you need if you have a computer/laptop at home that you can connect to your ordinary television or if you have a Wi-Fi capable Smart Television. If, however, you want/need to go the route of a dedicated media player in the living room, a reasonable Wi-Fi capable streaming media player with the Android Operating System is available from the Web with prices starting around R1500. All that is left to do from there is to connect it to your TV or Media Centre using the HDMI cable, download the Video on Demand App(s) and perhaps Google Chrome for watching sports using the website provided and that is that, you are set to go. Those of you who own Next Generation gaming Consoles (PS4/X-Box One) are set to go since Netflix probably came pre-installed on your console and Showmax should have an app for you before the year is out, but seeing as how you already have a constant internet connection, chances are that you already have all you need and just need to take that small step.

All in all, the hardware costs of setting up your VOD entertainment (the price of freedom from Multichoice) on a "Dumb TV" should be around the R3000.00 mark, which is (again) on par with what you would pay to have your DStv set up in the first place.


Taking everything into account, there is only one conclusion that I can draw from my experience with all of this and that is that streaming television is not only becoming a reality in South Africa, but that it is fast becoming a realistic alternative to what Multichoice currently forces down your throats. I have learnt over the past seven months that I simply do not need Multichoice anymore and you really don’t either. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Republic of Zuptania: Part 3

What emerges from the previous two parts of this series is a clear picture of a Business Empire that is primarily built on the foundations of Gupta Money and political influence brought about by Jacob Zuma’s Presidency. The collective Zuptas currently have direct ties to two Government Ministers and Departments (the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs) and no less than three State-Owned Enterprises (ESKOM, Transnet, Denel). There is therefore no reason for us not to believe that the Guptas do indeed have the power to influence Ministerial appointments, the awarding of tenders and indeed broader economic policy, but in a strange way we should be thankful that this situation was exposed when it was, because it could have been far, far worse.

The fact of the matter is that the current situation is not nearly as bad as it could have been had some of the Guptas’ more daring machinations paid the dividends they were hoping for. One easily imagines that we would not nearly have seen the level of fallout we did had Mcebisi Jonas but accepted the Guptas offer of the Finance Ministery and been appointed instead of David van Rooyen. If that had happened, then there is no telling what the results may have looked like.

At this point in the series, I had hoped that I would be able to quote Porky Pig (“That’s all folks”), but if writing this series has taught me anything, it would be that a lot of the evidence do point in a certain direction, but also raise even more questions, so I am left with no alternative but to quote the (not so) good people over at Verimark “but wait, there’s more.” Just about the only thing that is certain at this point in time is that we’ve not seen the back of this by a dam site.

More questions
Please note, those of you who have managed to get this far into the series, that I am not about to make any statements or allegations, but I am going to ask some questions. When we go about connecting seemingly random dots, the do not always form a clear picture, but sometimes they do and this is more an exercise in my own paranoia surrounding Jacob Zuma and our Government than anything else.

1.     Is that it? Is that all the Zupta Empire can conjure?
The answer to that question is sadly no, because biggest and most troublesome question that started to pop up in my mind as a went through process of compiling this is how it was even possible for all of this to escape the attentions of other “independent” organs of State. What is beyond any shadow of a doubt is that there are large amounts of money involved in all these transactions, so one would expect the South African Revenue Service to pay extremely close attention to all of it, but be severely disappointed, because everyone has seemed to miss the boat. Or have they?

Enter into the fray, if you will, Tom Moyane and the SARS “Rogue Intelligence Unit.”

The first “SARS Wars” started brewing on 28 May 2014 when an alleged SSA double agent named Belinda Walter (at the time working for British American Tobacco’s competitor Carnilinx as an attorney) wrote to SARS regarding her relationship with then Group Executive Johann van Loggerenberg. In June of that year, acting Commissionar Ivan Pillay appointed the Kanyane Panel to look into the allegations, which the panel subsequently found (on 12 August 2014) had no credible basis unless corroborated by other information at a later stage and could therefore not be used as basis for a formal investigation. Despite these findings, Pillay nevertheless appointed the Shikhakhane Panel to conduct further investigations into any misconduct or impropriety relating to van Loggerenberg’s conduct in the matter of and allegations made by Belinda Walter. At this point, there had been rumours of a “Rogue Unit” in the press, but there was no evidence that such a unit actually existed, outside of allegations made by a lover scorned.

That was apparently that, until a major change happened at SARS.

The change I refer to is Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Tom Moyane as the new Commissioner at SARS in place of acting Commissioner Ivan Pillay on 24 September 2014. The Shikhakhane Panel concluded its investigation and handed its report to Moyane on 5 November 2016, but the powder keg took spark on 9 November 2014 when the Sunday Times ran a piece on the “Rogue Unit” written on the back of leaked memorandums and other internal SARS documents. It was only after this article saw the light of day that Moyane met with the Shihakhane panel and expanded its mandate to also investigate the claims into the rogue intelligence unit at which time all the interviews with involved persons have been concluded and they had no chance to deliver evidence on the “Rogue Unit.” The accuracy and bias of the Shikhahane Report is therefore rather questionable, but it was nevertheless published on Politicsweb on 28 April 2015, finding great impropriety by Johan van Loggerenberg, but more importantly also finding that the “Rogue Unit” had been established unlawfully and “SARS should ensure that proper structures of co-operation between SARS and Government agencies statutorily tasked with intelligence gathering and crime investigation are established in order to assist SARS with the capacity it may require. Alternatively, the Commissioner, through the Minister of Finance may request Parliament to enact legislation giving SARS the investigative capacity it requires.” [Par 190.4.3]

We know that, to date, no request to grant investigation powers to SARS has been made by the Minister of Finance and that all investigations must therefore be conduction in cooperation with established bodies like the South African Police Force (SAPS), Directorate for Priority Crimes (Hawks) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) among others, which brings me to the big question; can we establish a direct link between the appointment of Tom Moyane and the State Capture perpetrated by the Guptas?

I think we can.

Yes, you could argue that Moyane was merely searching for the truth with regards to the Shikhakhane panel, but when you consider the fact that Johann van Loggerenberg (acting as Head of Special Investigations under the authority of the Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay) was starting to generate a reputation for himself due to his ability to bring wealthy individuals and politicians (like Julius Malema, among others) to book, then it becomes quite apparent that certain people at SARS could pose a direct threat to the operations and aspirations of the Gupta Business Empire and its continued success might very well have depended on getting rid of them.

Moyane achieved just that when he suspended both Pillay and van Loggerenberg shortly after the Sunday Times report on 9 November 2014. Van Loggerenberg ultimately resigned on 4 February 2015 and was followed by Ivan Pillay on 7 May 2015. But the SARS Wars also claimed many other members of the Revenue Service’s top structures:
-         chief operating officer Barry Hore;
-         modernisation and strategy head Jérôme Frey;
-         the head of the case selection division under Hore, Jacques Meyer;
-         anti-corruption and security head Clifford Collings;
-         Pillay’s special adviser Yolisa Pikie; and
-         spokespeople Adrian Lackay and Marika Muller

In one fell swoop, Moyane not only opened up space for his own people in the top structures of SARS via his “restructuring programme” and could presumably prevent any investigations into the Zuma/Gupta family, but even if he fails to achieve that goal, it actually matters very little because even if an investigation were to be launched, it would now fall under the auspices of the infamous Security Cluster of Ministers who all rallied to Jacob Zuma’s side during the entire Nkandla debacle.

This line of thinking is also supported by Floyd Shivambu’s allegation that the Guptas moved as much as R2 billion to Dubai and yet did not pay the 10% levy on such transfers as required by the South African Reserve Bank. One has to wonder how such transfers just happened to escape the attentions of the South African Revenue Service (as the Customs authority) and the answer can only be Tom Moyane or one of his goons.

Given the far reaching and possibly disastrous consequences of SARS under the control of the Zuptas, I really do hope that the line drawn here is nothing but a crackpot conspiracy theory, but given its importance it should be investigated by a truly independent and preferably international body and we have to wonder, what exactly is it that Paul o’Sullivan was about to reveal to the world?

2.     What’s eating KPMG?
It seems very odd indeed that a company like KPMG could suddenly, after a fifteen year relationship and being “privy” to everything, but especially the happenings since 2014, suddenly be the first to decide to end their association with Oakbay and the Zuptas.

At the time there was simply no indication that the Zupta Empire was about to be collapse or hauled before a court of law. So it does not make any sense for them to just give up such a meal-ticket and don’t you go and believe, even for a split second, the yarn about “association risk to the company’s public image and reputation” either, because in the international context of KPMG, any damage done to its reputation by (and financial repercussions of) this situation are negligible at best. So what do the good people over at KPMG know that we mere mortals do not?

Well, there’s the matter of the “Second SARS Wars” for a start.

I will not enter into too many of the specifics regarding the SARS Wars themselves, but it should be kept in mind that the unlawful formation of the “Rogue Unit” goes all the way back to when Pravin Gordhan was Commissioner of SARS and KPMG is involved in all of it because another recommendation of the Shikhakhane report was that SARS appoints an independent body to do a forensic investigation into the activities of the “Rogue Unit” in order to determine whether criminal or civil proceedings should be instituted against individuals involved. KPMG was appointed to conduct the investigation in December 2014 and Moyane instructed that Advocate Martin Bressey work with the firm and assist it in “capturing oral evidence.” The report was “finalized” and handed to Moyane on 4 December 2015, but like the previous SARS Wars the report was marred by irregularities and media leaks.

Press leaks in September 2015 brought to light that KPMG
-         received letters from the legal counsel of SARS (August 2015) containing findings which they felt should be included in the report. These recommendations were not only included in the final report, but were included verbatim;
-         never actually captured any oral evidence but conducted a documentary review of documents, evidence and minutes of previous enquiries
-         released with the final report with a disclaimer stating that the report could not be used to resolve disputes or disciplinary matters and could not be released in part or as a whole to the press.
-         developed a conflict of interest in March 2015 when British American Tobacco declared it as their preferred auditor, ending BAT’s seventeen year relationship with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Since BAT was part of the investigation van Loggerenberg was conducting when Walter made the allegation against him, it meant that KPMG would now be investigating the domestic activities of one of the world’s largest multi-national companies while being in their employ.

These four facts could go to prove that KPMG did not fulfil the mandate for which it was employed, was biased in favour of another client (BAT) and was pliable by including the recommendations of outside parties in their final report.

Then the unthinkable happened, KPMG (and SARS for that matter) got a very large spanner thrown into the works; Pravin Gordhan was back as Minister of Finance just over a week after the “final” report was submitted to Moyane. What’s more is that Jacob Zuma, being the politically vengeful individual we know him to be, then went and allegedly instructed Hawks boss Berning Ntelemenza to launch an investigation into Gordhan’s involvement in the rogue unit on the back of the Shikhakhane (and by extension the KPMG) report and he did so amid a growing public spat between President and Minister over Tom Moyane.

The report’s potential consequences for KPMG suddenly took on a completely different dimension. In the event that Pravin Gordhan is found guilty of unlawful conduct and removed from his portfolio, the report would literally go from a containable domestic “nuisance” to an international sensation in a matter of minutes. If such an event is to ever occur, then the disclaimer added to the final KPMG report would be utterly meaningless in the eyes of the press and it is only a matter of time before the world’s media makes this same connection between the Zuptas, KPMG and SARS; in the eyes of the media court, at least, KPMG would not only be complicit in facilitating the Zupta State Capture, but it would have proven itself as biased, pliable, unprofessional and not at all serious about the confidential nature of its business in an industry where your reputation is literally worth its weight in Benjamins ($100 bills) if not solid gold.

You might remember that the fifth large multi-national accounting firm Arthur Andersen had no choice but to surrender its auditing license even after having its conviction of obstructing the ends of justice (as relates to their auditing of Texas based energy giant Enron that went bust in 2001) vacated on appeal. The damage done to its reputation was so severe that there was simply no use in trying to practice anymore and this might be what KPMG tried to avoid when it cut its ties to Oakbay on 4 April 2016.

3.     The Oakbay Share Price Paradox
Biznews.com ran a piece that touched on the subject of the Oakbay share prices by Martin Williams on 14 April 2016 and if things aren’t strange enough already, Twilight Zone be damned, the Oakbay share prices are a mystery all its own.

JSE listed Oakbay Holdings is in as precarious a position as any corporate could ever find itself. Not only does Oakbay presently find itself without an accredited auditor (as is required for continued listing on the JSE) while there doesn’t seem to be a bank in sight that would even touch it with a stick, but yet the share price of Oakbay Holdings has been remarkably resilient in the wake of the Jonas Revelations, shedding a mere 7.5% of its value since the statement issued by Mcebisi Jonas on 16 March 2016 (R20.00) and 15 April (R18.50).

This is really no secret, folks, because the fact of the matter is that the Guptas own the majority of Oakbay Resources & Energy’s 800 000 000 shares. Of these, some 639 995 900 million shares are owned by Oakbay investments, while long-time associate companies Saranya and Action Investments own a combined 112 940 453, which means that just over 47 000 Okbay Resources and Energy shares are available on the market for outside investors. The simple conclusion to be drawn is that the major shareholders are just not unloading their shares onto the market, despite all the troubles currently facing Oakbay. This does not explain, however, what happened on 10 February of 2016.

On that particular day, the Oakbay share price shed roughly three quarters of is value during midday trade, tumbling from R 30.48 to R 7.55 when a single trade comprising of 1102 shares hit the market. An investigation by the JSE at the time found that no impropriety or manipulation has taken place, but this all seems too good to be true to occur on the back of such a small volume of shares being traded and especially when the Oakbay share price has proven itself to be largely immune to the political storms taking place around it.

What happened on 10 February 2016?

4.     The Saudi job?
As I was writing this, the fact that most of the back alley deals took part in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) seemed purely incidental and that there was nothing linking it to the domestic events, but that theory was blown completely out of the water when News24 ran the story of Jacob Zuma opening a weapons factory in the United Arab Emirates during a recent state visit.

Perhaps this is the same visit during which he allegedly took R 6 billion of Gupta money to Dubai and if that holds true, then it all ties in nicely with the Guptas suddenly leaving South Africa on 7 April 2016, but that is not the question I wish to ask here. The question I wish to ask if there is any connection between the Zuptas and the joint venture between Rheinmetall Denel Munitions and Saudi Military Industrial Corporation that resulted in the Al-Kharj military industrial complex.

Al-Kharj seems to follow the same pattern as the now ill-formed Denel Asia in that it is illegal for such ventures to take place without authorisation from Treasury (Minister of Finance) and the Minister of Public Enterprises. Regardless of this, both these ventures effectively opened their doors in a very short space of time between them and to the complete surprise of both Ministries involved. Moreover, the Gupta Business Empire stood to make billions due to their involvement in VR Laser Services, which was almost guaranteed to benefit from large contracts to supply steel components to Al-Kharj and perhaps this would fully explain the formation of Denel Asia in the first place.

It also casts a different light on the R2 billion in “assets” that the Guptas have already moved offshore; do they perhaps own a larger stake in the Al-Kharj military industrial complex than we are aware of?

5.     Denel. It may not be a river in Egypt, but seems to be one in the UAE
It also emerged recently, via a City Press article, that there is a stronger Zupta influence at Denel than we have previously thought. The Chief Executive Officer of Denel, Riaz Saloojee was suddenly fired, presumably by Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown, on 14 April 2016 after being on suspension for eight months along with two of his top officials due to alleged irregularities with the company’s profit statements. This is a most curious development since the there was never any finding against Saloojee, the company has never recorded an operating loss or received anything but a clean audit under Saloojee’s stewardship and, what’s more, it was confirmed to the trade unions representing Denel’s employees that his contract would be renewed for another five year term when it ended in January 2016 before his suspension around August last year.

So what’s up with that?

I find it a great coincidence that Saloojee’s suspension would come just prior to the happenings around Denel Asia and the same City Press article alleges that Saloojee resisted outside pressure to make “prescribed” appointments to Denel subsidiaries and that that is the real reason behind his suspension and ultimate axing from the parastatal. But this casts serious suspicions on Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown.

Appointed 25 May 2016, Minister Brown’s appointment predates (just) the vast majority of the Zupta’s more daring grabs of State businesses. Barely a month after her appointment, Iqbal Sharma gives Transnet tenders to himself and three months later, Brown appoints Mark Pamensky to the ESKOM board. On the other hand, the formation of Denel Asia has not been approved by either the Treasury or Department of Public Enterprises as is required by law, so perhaps Minister Brown’s only crime here is that she’s been a little too submissive to her boss, Jacob Zuma.

Either way, I still think that the Minister should come forward and explain herself.

I simply do not know whether any of the questions I posed here warrant further investigation or if they even have the most remote element of truth to them, but what we can be sure of is that making sure of everything is in our collective best interests.

The Republic of Zuptania: Part 2

If the timeline provided in the previous post is not too much information in itself, then the sheer amount of corporations and people involved in this scam are nothing short of confounding.

The Corporate Players
1.     Oakbay Resources and Energy
Oakbay Resources and Energy is the parent company of the following smaller companies with their shareholding in the parent company in brackets (pre-JSE listing) and also shareholders in the individual firms
-         Oakbay Investments (79.99%)
o   Atul Gupta (30%)
o   Chetali Gupta (30%)
o   Islandsite 180 (40%)
§  Atul Gupta (25%)
§  Chetali Gupta (25%)
§  Rajesh Gupta (25%)
§  Arti Gupta (25%)
-         Action Investments (8.47%)
o   HK Agarwal (89.06%)
o   Vinod Agarwal (10.94%)
-         Saranya (5.65%)
o   Nikhil Agarwal (99.99%)
o   S Bharwaj (0.01%)
-         Unlimited (2.31%)
o   Kamran AG Radiowala (99.9995%)
o   Faizya K Radiowala (0.0005%)
-         IDC (3.57%)
-         Oakbay Group Employees (0.0004%)

What is clear from this breakdown is that Atul Gupta and, presumably, his wife Chetali controls 80% of Oakbay investments, also giving them a majority (controlling) share of 63.992% in Oakbay Holdings.

2.     Mabengela Investments
Mabengela Investments is a “Black Economic Empowerment” company and seems to be the main investment vehicle for Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane who owns a 45% share and serves as a director of the company. The only other director and notable shareholder with a 25% stake is Rajesh “Tony” Gupta.

3.     Islandsite Investments 255/254
Like Mabengela, the only listed directors of Islandsite Investments 255 is Duduzane Zuma and Rajesh “Tony” Gupta.

4.     Shiva Uranium
A joint venture between Oakbay Holdings (74%) and “subsidiary” Islandsite Investments 255 (26%). Currently owns of the Dominion Uranium Mine outside Klerksdorp, North West Province as well as prospecting rights one thousands of hectares.

5.     Imperial Crown Trading 289 (ICT)
While not directly linked to abovementioned companies, 50% of ICT’s shares were allocated to Pragad Investment, of which Jagdish Parekh is the sole shareholder. Parekh also happens to be CEO of both Shiva Uranium and Tegeta Resources and Exploration.

6.     Westdawn Investments (JIC Mining Services)
Formerly from the Mvelapanda Holdings Stable, purchased in 2005/06 during a joint venture between Oakbay Investments (57.6%), Gemini Moon Trading (28%) and Lexshell 702 Investment (14.4%) aimed at providing mining services. Duduzane Zuma is both a shareholder of Gemini Moon Trading 254, via his stake in Mabengela, and a director along with Rajesh “Tony” Gupta.

7.     VR Laser Services
A steel manufacturing company of which 74.9% is owned by Salim Essa through his complete ownership of Elgasolve. The remainder of the shares in the company is owned by Craysure Investments, which in turn is completely owned by Westdawn Investments.

8.     Tegeta Exploration & Resources
Founded as subsidiary of Oakbay Investments, Tegeta is set to buy Optimum Colliery from Glencore after the mine ran into financial troubles following the reousrce price slump and R2.2 billion ESKOM fine in 2014. Salim Essa’s Elgasolve reportedly owns a 22% stake in Tegeta, while Duduzane Zuma’s Mabengela Investments owns 28.5%.

If this is not confusing enough, there are even more corporations involved in this Empire (Alec Hogg claims as many as twelve), but those mentioned seem to be the bigger ones that can be primarily tied in with the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma. The number one question raised by this structure, to my mind at least, is why such a complex corporate web is necessary in the first place?

If Duduzane Zuma’s claims about being a self-made businessman are accurate and if there is indeed no political influence behind the success of the Gupta’s, then why do they find it necessary to hide their respective interests behind layer upon layer of corporate malarkey?

The answer, of course, is that people with things to hide show a general proclivity towards attempts at hiding them and with all the distance the individuals put between themselves and their operatives, it is a structure that is far more reflective of that normally in place for a crime syndicate.

“La Familia” (The Family)
This entire structure is, of course, comprised of and driven by people. While I will not provide any more information on the “big players” in Atul and Rajesh Gupta and Duduzane Zuma, since enough has been written about them already, I have discovered a virtual army of shady characters and operators involved in this matter that merit “investigation” in their own regard. This is especially true in the cases of Ajay Gupta and President Jacob Zuma who seem to be the “invisible hands pulling the strings,” since so little (none, in fact) concrete evidence of their involvement in this saga is available.

1.     Ajay Gupta
While Ajay Gupta may hold no financial stake in any of the family’s businesses, he is described (in a 2013 Mail & Guardian article) as the head of the Gupta family. This position puts him in charge of formulating the family’s business strategies and also in control of the family’s finances. The final decision regarding the family’s finances falls to him, which would imply that he must have intimate knowledge of every decision and every “investment” the family has made. It is therefore not only probable, but likely, that Ajay Gupta is the man at the helm of the ship and the mastermind behind the Gupta Business Empire. Younger brothers Atul and Rajesh are naught but the lieutenants in the Gupta Business Empire, but in true Mafioso fashion, Ajay Gupta has taken great pains to insulate himself from scrutiny.

2.     Jacob Zuma
As stated there is no direct evidence, outside of hearsay, of the President’s direct involvement in any of the Gupta businesses, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that not only indicate that he was well aware of what was going on, but that he started playing an active role to benefit these businesses from the political side of the spectrum.

While his relation to Duduzane Zuma is meaningless in itself, a close study of the timeline makes it clear that there has been a very rapid growth in Duduzane Zuma’s involvement and expansion of the Gupta business empire following Jacob Zuma’s election as President of the ANC and heir apparent to the Presidency of the Republic. As pertains to the first few years, say until mid-2014, one could make the argument that Duduzane and his associates were merely riding on the President’s “coat tails” and that he was blissfully ignorant of this fact. But thanks to hindsight being the perfect science, it seems that something changed during the latter half of 2014.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that the President came to realize his own political “mortality” at the start of his second term, especially amid the debacle surrounding the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla that just would not go away, or perhaps it is because the previous business ventures had not taken off to the degree that the Guptas had hoped for; Shiva Uranium wasn’t (and still isn’t) doing all that well, the public mostly shunned the New Age Newspaper, the bid for the prospecting rights at Sishen failed in the Constitutional Court, ANN7 was (and still is) the laughing stock of the country’s media and Tegeta Exploration and Resources was just another small time mining operation that nobody even heard of.

Whatever the case may be, the latter half of 2014 saw the start of political moves being made that could fall well within the scope of President Zuma’s political power and influence all of which seemed to directly benefit the Gupta Business Empire. While one instance of such a benefit would surely be a coincidence, a series of such instances forms a pattern that would indicate that President Zuma knowingly and purposefully made the decisions that he did. It is also interesting to note how Zuma’s machinations have gotten more and more brazen as the political pressure on him has increased, to the point where it is now “open kimono” with regards to Zuma’s unmasked and unpretentious support of SARS commissioner Tom Moyane in defiance of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

3.     Mark Pamensky
Less than two weeks after the Jonas Revelation, Biznews.com founder Alec Hogg reported on the Bizarre Case of Mark Pamensky and while I agree with Alec that Pamensky’s appointment to the ESKOM Board of Directors (December 2014) a mere three months after he was appointed to the Oakbay Board of Directors (September 2014) warrants further investigation, I would like to add another Gupta dimension to the matter of the Optimum Coal Scandal that Hogg also reported on in February of this year.

At the time of Pamensky’s appointment ESKOM’s was buying coal from the Optimum Mine (on a 25 year contract dating back to 1993) under the Glencore PLC Banner for its Hendrina power plant but as the mine aged, the quality of the coal deteriorated, the cost of mining kept climbing and it seems that Optimum had been providing coal to ESKOM at a loss since 2012. While this might certainly be the natural progression for any mining operation, ESKOM ultimately slapped Optimum Mine with a R2.2 billion fine to recover losses incurred for the delivery of sub-specification coal, as it is entitled to do under the contract.

Again, not sinister in itself, but where it gets hazy, even if one ignores the interventions of Minister Mosebeni Zwane in this instance, is where reports indicate that the coal delivered over the three years prior to the fine was in fact acceptable, judging by the efficiency reports of the Hendrina Plant, but the real “cloak and dagger” stuff started when ESKOM insisted that the fine on the Optimum mine would be kept in place, even in the event that the mine itself is sold to another operator. One would think that any such fines would be levied against the operator of the mine and not the mine itself, but what this leads to in the Optimum case is the effective doubling of the sale price, since Tegeta ultimately bought the mine for R2.15 billion. I cannot think of a better way to dissuade any possible competitors than to increase the sale price by more than 100%. Time will tell if it would indeed levy this fine on Tegeta and if the sale will ultimately be concluded, so we can only speculate as to what would have happened had the bomb not gone off.

4.     Jagdish Parekh
Jagdish Parekh is mostly unknown character involved in this, but he is perhaps also the one character that could point to the fact that the Gupta State Capture goes back much further than we ever really knew about. It all appears to have started in 2014, but when you factor Parekh into the mix, you have to go back all the way to the Sishen Mining Rights dispute that started way back in 2010. The major player in that particular dispute was Imperial Crown Trading in which Parekh, who was described in a 2011 business day article on the Guptas as “the Managing Director of the family’s investment vehicle Oakbay Investments” personally held a 50% stake. The Sishen Mining rights ultimately proved to be a false start, but it is still reasonable to assume that Parekh has had intimate knowledge of all Gupta Business related dealings following this moment in time and perhaps even sooner, but I could uncover no evidence to positively point to that fact.

He should be brought into the investigation along with Pamensky.

5.     Salim Essa
Perhaps the shadiest character in this whole sordid saga, Salim Essa’s sole job seems to be cultivating relationships with people that can then later exert massive influence over State Owned Enterprises. A recent article by the Mail & Guardian’s centre for investigative journalism, Amabhungane (dated 24 March 2016), revealed Essa’s direct ties not only to five current members of the ESKOM board, but also ties to people with direct influence over decisions made at Transnet, Denel and the Department of Mineral Resources.

If one studies the histories of Essa and his mentioned associates a pattern emerges whereby Essa cultivates relationships with potentially influential people, only to have those relationships terminated just prior to these people being elected into positions where they can exert large amounts of influence over economic sectors in which the Guptas have large interests. Two sources contributing to the Amabhungane article even went as far as to state that Essa acts as a proxy for the Guptas.

Salim Essa seems to be the major lynchpin in the Gupta Business Empire Family and if we manage to get our hands on him, he might prove to be extremely insightful.

6.     Iqbal Sharma
Sharma is one of the many people that Essa has sought a relationship with in order to promote the business interests of the Guptas. Sharma first came into the spotlight when VR Laser services was the apparent frontrunner to receive a sizable chunk of the planned R50 billion locomotive tenders that Transnet put out, with Sharma being Chairman of the board committee responsible for overseeing the tender process. At the time, at least, Sharma owned a company Issar Capital which in turn was the sole owner of VRLS Properties. VRLS properties, in turn owned the premises on which the VR Laser Services factories stand and even the name of VRLS Properties seems to be tied into VRLS laser services. Not only does this mean that there was a lease agreement between VRLS Properties (Sharma) and VR Laser services Elgasolve (Essa), but it also emerged that both these gentlemen (if they qualify as such) were directors of a company named Daqo South Africa.

With everything taken into account, what you are left with is a veritable labyrinth of companies and people that all fit together somehow and if a picture is worth more than the thousands of words I’ve already used, then perhaps we would be better served by my own amateurish attempts at an infographic.