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Hands Across the Sea — Linthicum’s Letter for May 2013

If you thought the American press had cornered the world market on the use of the suffix “gate” to indicate a scandal, think again. South African newspapers, radio, television and social media are awash in references to “Guptagate,” the latest high-profile embarrassment to rock the administration of President Jacob Zuma.
It all began a couple of weeks ago when the media broke the story that a civilian airliner from India carrying about 200 guests for a wedding involving members of a wealthy, influential Indian family living here had landed at a South African air base instead of a civilian airport.
Now this is not just any wealthy, influential Indian family. These are the Guptas, who are politically hot-wired to President Zuma and his son, who has business ties to them.
The Gupta family’s ties to President Zuma and his political allies have been noted widely in the South African press, which was quick to pounce when this latest juicy morsel surfaced.
The first explanation for how a civilian airliner could have landed at such a major and sensitive air base was that nearby civilian airports couldn’t handle such a large aircraft. That cover story was quickly debunked and the subsequent disclosures have been more and more embarrassing for President Zuma.
First the government said that the landing was unauthorized. Then, sources leaked documents to the press appearing to show that the landing was authorized because the plane was carrying ministers of the Indian government, which was not true.
Things have continued to unravel since. At last report, five senior government managers—one of whom is the chief of state protocol and three of whom are South African Air Force senior officers – eight police officers and one South African Police Service reservist had been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
The preliminary results of a government investigation into the matter are in, but so far, no one has decided whether to make the results public and if so, how and when.
Two weeks into the scandal, Zuma still has not addressed the matter publicly, although self-serving sources have told the South African media that Zuma was “furious” over the landing of the Gupta plane and that he was demanding explanations from various government officials.
Meanwhile, the press here is having a wonderful time with articles, editorials, cartoons and coining new terms left and right. Here are a few from the Daily Maverick:
Guptagate—“An investigation that will fizzle out as soon as the next crisis breaks.”
Heligupta—“A vehicle that flies in the face of protocol…and can land anywhere.”
Contraguption—“How the Dalai Lama’s entry to South Africa was denied but the Gupta wedding party had full access…”
GobbledyGupta—“The incoherent and somewhat desperate spin employed to make the Gupta wedding debacle someone else’s problem.”
As always, all ideas are appreciated. Best to all, and congratulations to all the MDDC editorial award winners.

Tom Linthicum
You can write to Tom at lthomas155@aol.com.

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