The Star: I have no qualms over lunch with Guptas - Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP leader says he went to their house once and that was first and last interaction he had with the family

Response to an article in The Times today

30 May 2017

Amongst over 400 leaked emails revealing the extent of the Gupta family’s influence, is one innocuous email sent from my parliamentary office to Mr Tony Gupta. Somehow The Times felt there’s a story here, where none exists.

Let me therefore give the full background so that the facts are clear.

In 2013, having never personally met the Guptas, I received an invitation to a three day family wedding. Ministers and former Ministers had been invited, and I presumed that I had been included on the guest list as the former Minister of Home Affairs. I therefore honoured the invitation, but only stayed for the actual ceremony.

It was there that I met the youngest Gupta brother, Mr Tony Gupta, who then asked that I have lunch with him whenever I was in Johannesburg again.

However, we had no further contact after the wedding, until February 2016, when Mr Gupta heard that I was going to be in Johannesburg for a funeral. He then ‘phoned my Secretary to renew his invitation.

I was scheduled to deliver the oration at the funeral of the late Professor Herbert Vilakazi, accompanied, as I often am, by my son Prince Zuzifa Buthelezi. Having neglected Mr Gupta’s invitation for so long, I agreed to stop at his house after the funeral, on the way to the airport. My son and I would be able to have a brief lunch with him.

My Secretary sent a single email to Mr Gupta confirming this, on 5 February 2016. It is unclear why the leaked email is allegedly dated 2 May. The email was purely logistical, which explains why The Times could find nothing more interesting to report on than my dietary requirements.

It’s absurd that this was considered newsworthy. When one is invited to lunch, the host routinely asks about one’s dietary requirements. For decades my office has routinely advised that I am diabetic, and provides the necessary guidance.

On 5 February 2016, my son and I arrived at the lunch a little late, due to the funeral, and we were received by Mr Tony Gupta.

Over lunch, he made a presentation on the background of the Gupta family, of how they had started from nothing and grown their business to the point of being able to create jobs for South Africans. He spoke about all that the family had done for this, their adopted country. He even provided me with a written presentation.

The family was already under enormous pressure from negative publicity, and Mr Tony Gupta felt it important that respected leaders in South Africa understood their side of the story. He then sought my advice on what they should do to rectify the negative image being created. I advised him that they should publicise their side of the story. That was the extent of our conversation.

My son and I then had to leave for the airport. We thanked Mr Gupta for lunch, and left.

That was the first and last interaction I had with the Gupta family.

When asked about this visit by a journalist, I spoke about it openly. I went in broad daylight, and I have no qualms about what was discussed.

This is simply not a story worth telling.

Issued by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, President, IFP, 30 May 2017