Former president Jacob Zuma acted as de facto editor, managing director and shareholder of Gupta-family owned broadcaster ANN7, an explosive new tell-all book reveals.
The book by Rajesh Sundaram, ANN7's first editor – who was brought in from India to run the 24-hour news channel – reveals how in three meetings he attended with the former president, Zuma played a formative role in the family's television station. Jacana Media released the book, "Indentured: Behind The Scenes At Gupta TV", this month.
Zuma chose presenters like Mzwanele Manyi, determined the editorial line and smoothed access to government advertising. Manyi is now the owner of the channel, after he bought it from the Guptas in a vendor-financed deal. Reports last month suggested that he is struggling to pay salaries.
Sundaram is a seasoned journalist and broadcasting executive who quit under a cloud of fear and acrimony. He fled back to India, scared stiff by threats from Atul Gupta.
He writes in the book that: "The news channel that I was heading would be a pro-ANC, pro-Zuma channel that was promoted and run by not only people close to President Zuma, but by President Zuma himself." He intimates that the 30 percent shareholding held by Zuma's son, Duduzane, in the ANN7 holding company is a family stake.
"In this scenario, I could see how he would use his position as president to ensure government advertising for the station. It also seemed, if this was the truth, that there was a clear conflict of interest – as his son had a stake in not just the Gupta-owned newspaper, but also the proposed television news channel.
"As a 30 percent stakeholder, his son [Duduzane Zuma] would get 30 percent of the profits earned from the revenues the president was helping them generate."
Sundaram details three meetings where Zuma acted as a shareholder of ANN7. He notes that he was surprised that a head of state could take so many hours out of a hectic schedule to take such a close interest in the launch of a private broadcaster.
" I think you should keep the funny shows out. Lampooning politicians for cheap humour is not news. I hate the one they have on eNCA." - Jacob Zuma
In the book, Sundaram quotes Ajay Gupta, who revealed that Zuma had named the channel. "President Zuma suggested we name the news channel Africa News Network." The founders then added the "7" because the original name had already been trademarked.
In his first meeting with the ANN7 team, Zuma said: "Please leave a copy of the presentation with me. I will study it in detail and will get back to you with input in a couple of weeks..."
"It looks good now. I think you should keep the funny shows out. Lampooning politicians for cheap humour is not news. I hate the one they have on eNCA."
At the next meeting, Zuma had far more detailed feedback for the ANN7 team, which included the two Gupta brothers, Atul and Ajay, as well as local executives Nazeem Howa and Moegsien Williams. Howa and Williams are prominent South African journalists who became integral to the Gupta's media empire, the book reveals.
In the second meeting, Zuma had detailed programme notes for the ANN7 team. "I have a few suggestions. We must not convert this into a publicity channel for the ANC and me. If we do that, we will have no credibility. You must present the views of the opposition and my rivals in the ANC as well.
"The push in our favour should be subtle. You are a seasoned journalist. You know how that can be done... eNCA only presents the government and me negatively.
"'We need a channel that presents the positives that the government is doing,' Zuma said, looking at me," reveals Sundaram. In early meetings before their relationship sours, Atul Gupta gives Sundaram a potted history of the family's relationship with Zuma: "We supported him when no one cared to look at him. Before the last elections, his opponents accused him of rape and corruption and made all kinds of charges. Most of his friends deserted him then. The Gupta family stood by him until he came out victorious. He would often come to our house and meet Ajay and me. Look where that support has brought him – today he is the president."
The book reveals that Zuma was key to unlocking business opportunities for The New Age newspaper and ANN7. After each of the three meetings, the editors and journalists at the meeting were ushered out.
"All three meetings I had with President Zuma ended this way. Nazeem, Moegsien, Ajay and Atul stayed on. I was told later by a member of The New Age's marketing team that these discussions were crucial for the paper to get government advertising and bring hard-to-convince ministers and officials in as guests on The New Age business briefing."
"Indentured" goes on sale today and is published by Jacana. It details how the family worked the home affairs system to run a scheme of indentured labour by Indian employees.