MEDIA STATEMENT BY G. MCKENZIE ON ‘GUPTA’ & OTHER DEFAMATION BY THE SUNDAY TIMES
17 September 2017
I spent the past week taking legal advice on last week’s front page Sunday Times article that was extremely defamatory towards me. My lawyers and I had barely agreed on the way forward when the same paper upped the ante on its attack on me and its bizarre obsession with trying to get the label “new Gupta” to stick to me (see here and here).
The legal process takes a long time, and I have no doubt I will be vindicated, but by then who knows how many more front pages I will have found myself on courtesy of the Sunday Times, so I need to set the record straight now.
Last week this newspaper cooked up an entire article alleging that I somehow have great influence over President Jacob Zuma and that people in the ANC and even ministers are scared of me. Their sources over both weeks have been unnamed – we can therefore not judge the credibility of these people or what their true motives may be.
No actual proof of anything has yet been offered by the Sunday Times. Over both weeks they have also stubbornly continued to make the factual blunder that Kenny Kunene is part of the Patriotic Alliance, when it was made clear three years ago that he was quitting politics completely. He is not even a member of the party.
Last week the paper “revealed” that Leanne Williams, a member of my party, was supposedly in line to be appointed as a deputy minister. No proof other than rumour was presented in favour of this “fact”, and this week the Sunday Times is writing about this as if it’s a generally accepted fact and I now really am a “new Gupta” who can influence cabinet appointments.
But none of this has happened, and nor will it happen.
Any responsible editor should have realised there was not enough basis to run both of the articles they have run.
The defamation on both occasions is clear: 1. Last week the Sunday Times implied I have been threatening and even blackmailing senior members of government. If I really did do this, it would be a serious crime, and they have offered no evidence. This week they quoted a mischievous “official” in David Mahlobo’s department as speculating that Kenny and I are either the state security minister’s proxy or we are blackmailing him. These are all very serious allegations, and since they aren’t true, they are slanderous. “Quoting” an unnamed official does not protect the Sunday Times from being guilty of libel. They are uncritically publicising a slanderous, formerly unknown accusation, and should therefore be considered guilty of libel.
2. Kenny and I have repeatedly been labelled the “new Guptas” by the Sunday Times with little basis. This isn’t just the kind of thing you can casually call someone in South Africa. Being labelled a “Gupta” is possibly the most defamatory label that can currently be attached to a person in South Africa, but that goes 100-fold for anyone who is in business or politics, and I am in both.
Last week they tried to get away with it by quoting an unnamed sources as calling us “the new Guptas”. This week, they appear to have accepted the label as true and are even calling us the new Guptas on their posters and in hashtags on Twitter, clearly trying to popularise this defamatory label.
The reality is that the name “Gupta” has become a swearword and a curse in South Africa. The Guptas are not even able to hold a bank account. They lost their JSE sponsor. They have been forced to sell their businesses simply because of the profound hostility towards them in the South African context. Which sane human being would want to be a Gupta in South Africa? You may as well shoot yourself in the head, it would be less painful. I therefore take huge exception to Kenny and I being called the “new Guptas”. The danger of this to my reputation is so profound it risks my entire livelihood and the thousands of people who rely on the success of my businesses. I will not leave the label unchallenged. I am not a Gupta, new or old.
3. Last week the Sunday Times even implied I am somehow being trained to be a spy by the Russian government (yes, they really wrote that). They claimed I had been going to Russia to either collect information on certain people or to get some intelligence training. They claimed I do Zuma’s “dirty work”.
To suggest in this way I may be interested or engaged in espionage is slander of the highest order. I am the president of a registered political party that has elected officials working in five major cities. To publish an allegation that I may be going to Russia to receive intelligence training is tantamount to suggesting I may be willing to engage in espionage and treason. Such an allegation, if not addressed, has the capacity to damage my reputation for life, and it could spiral into newer and even more dangerous assumptions that stand to do me, my family, my political followers, my businesses and their employees and all the many others who in some way or the other rely on me, believe in me and defend me … irreparable harm.
What makes it worse is the Sunday Times never actually put their serious allegations to me ahead of publication, choosing instead to only cherry-pick a few questions to create the impression I had been adequately consulted and given a chance to respond. It has been poor, malicious journalism from start to finish.
Why is this happening?
It’s very obvious to me and other right-thinking people that those who want Cyril Ramaphosa to be the next president of South Africa are very upset by the leaks that emerged of all the deputy president’s many extramarital affairs. They have blamed Kenny and me for this, but I had nothing to do with those leaks, and as far as I know Kenny only published the videos of one of Cyril’s girlfriends after he was sent that footage, which was also sent to many other people in the media.
I refuse to be turned into a weapon in the ANC’s factional wars. People think I am an easy target because of my criminal past, which I’ve never tried to hide from. What they fail to see and appreciate, however, is that I have spent all the years since my release from jail in 2003 trying to make amends. The fact that today I am working hard to create jobs through existing and new businesses (and give jobs to people who would otherwise be overlooked), bring investment into South Africa, mentor young people and fight the political battles of the disregarded and the downtrodden – such as families on the Cape Flats whose legal fees I cover after they have been wrongly evicted … all of these things and more are not things I am doing to be praised or given a pat on the back. But I must do these things and continue to show that I have changed. I refuse to simply sit back and be a victim just because I will always be nothing more than a filthy ex-con in the eyes of the Sunday Times.
I experienced the same thing with the attacks on me during my work for Gold Fields. My name was dragged through the mud. Then, when an investigation by the New York law firm Paul, Weiss found no wrongdoing on my part, there was not even a whisper of apology from anyone in the media.
I let that go. I’m no longer willing to let things go.
I left prison with ten rand in my pocket. I got a job paying me R1000 a month. I started my first business with R3000, and I failed many, many times until I finally succeeded. Many good people – not one of them a government minister or a president – has helped me, and today I am a dollar millionaire. None of this was achieved through state tenders.
I have carried the ex-con label because I brought that on myself. I will not carry the Gupta label bestowed on me by the Sunday Times.
I did my time as a young man, but clearly that can never be good enough for some of our editors and journalists. I obviously don’t fit the “acceptable mould” of the black businessman in South Africa. Not only do I not criticise Zuma, I admire the man openly. That doesn’t make me his “pal”, it merely means I hold a contrary view to the mainstream media. Let’s remember that I don’t do business with the state or any SEO. My trouble with the media clearly started the moment I wrote an opinion piece questioning the agenda of the anti-Zuma cabal. But I will not change my political opinions simply because of bad press.
The media, the middle class and intellectuals forget that politics in South Africa is not won in the boardrooms of publishing houses. It’s won on the dusty streets. They may think that attacking Kenny and me and calling us “Zuma’s pals” will aid Ramaphosa’s chances in December for the ANC, but their bias is nothing more than wishful thinking. What makes it worse is that in their eagerness to taint Zuma, they have lost sight of the fact that they are slandering me, and I happen to have the same legal rights as anyone else in this country.
They are calling us the new Guptas, but we are far from it, and unlike the “old Guptas” (the only ones, actually), they need to know I’m not about to just allow them to say and do whatever they want to me.
They have a fight on their hands.
I shall fight these groundless attacks with every legal means at my disposal.
Statement issued by Gayton McKenzie, in his personal capacity, 17 September 2017