Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane says the new mining charter emphasises using broad-based collective ownership programmes for the mining industry, says the writer. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
SAVING JOBS: Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane says he took credit for encouraging the deal in which the Gupta family acquired the Glencore Optimum colliery because jobs were at stake. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THREE months after he was appointed mineral resources minister, Mosebenzi Zwane helped the Gupta family acquire Glencore Optimum colliery. Now it has emerged that his political adviser has a business connection with the family, who are friends of President Jacob Zuma.

After Mr Zuma promoted Mr Zwane from provincial politics to run the ministry in September, Malcolm Mabaso, 33, became his political adviser. Mr Mabaso and Salim Essa, a business partner of the Guptas, are both directors of Premium Security and Cleaning Services, according to publicly available company filings.

Mr Essa is a director at VR Laser Services, a company in which the Gupta family investment vehicle holds a minority stake.

Last month VR Laser entered a partnership with state defence company Denel to market its products in Asia. There are allegations that this deal was not endorsed by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and the Treasury. This made the deal illegal under the Public Finances Management Act.

The Guptas’ alleged influence in shaping of policy in the Zuma administration has drawn criticism from the opposition and expressions of concern from within the ruling African National Congress.

The family, led by brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh, came to SA from India in 1993 and built a business group ranging from computers to uranium mining. They have spread their tentacles to many government-related businesses, raising the ire of many South Africans.

At least one of the brothers is a director in at least a dozen companies along with the president’s son, Duduzane, according to public documents, and has employed one of Mr Zuma’s wives.

On Tuesday, the government rebutted an Africa Confidential claim that Desmond van Rooyen moved to the Treasury with a chief of staff and an adviser who had Gupta links. When Mr van Rooyen was re-deployed to the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs a few days later, he took the two, Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat, with him.

"There’s absolutely no doubt that here you have a situation of patronage that gives advantage to those who are politically connected," Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst and professor at the University of SA said.

"Even ANC leaders are starting to raise this issue."

Mr Zwane said he had encouraged the Optimum acquisition in the hope of saving jobs. He said he had flown to Switzerland and met Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg, with whom he discussed the deal.

"I took credit, because I said ‘engage. Let’s save jobs. You have a profit mentality, but jobs are at stake here’," he said.

Mr Mabaso declined to comment when called yesterday. Mr Essa did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Mr Zwane’s spokesman, Martin Madlala, said he would respond to e-mailed questions.

Oakbay Investments, a company owned by the Guptas said: "Like many businesses with mining interests in SA, we are familiar with minister Zwane and Mr Mabaso, but we have no material relationship beyond that."

The Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters opposition parties have criticised Mr Zwane’s decision to advance the Guptas’ acquisition of Glencore’s Optimum coal complex.

The deal is being scrutinised by the Competition Tribunal.

Tegeta Exploration & Resources, a company in which the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma have a stake, agreed to buy Optimum for R2.15bn in December, days after Mr Zwane flew to Switzerland.

If successful, Tegeta will operate two more mines and will be supplying nearly 5% of state power utility Eskom’s roughly 120-million tonnes of coal. It will also gain access to Africa’s biggest coal terminal so it can export the fuel.

The Guptas gained national attention in 2013 when they flew 217 people to SA in a chartered jet that landed at the Waterkloof air force base for their niece’s wedding. As a "national key point", the facility is prohibited from undertaking commercial activities.

A government report into the incident, which became known as "Guptagate", concluded the landing had been authorised because Mr Zuma’s name was falsely invoked.

Bloomberg

• Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg, the parent of Bloomberg News, is a senior independent nonexecutive director at Glencore