Charles Cilliers
Journalist
3 minute read
25 May 2017
3:47 pm

By the way, are we still calling the Guptas black?

Charles Cilliers

Dear Mr Gupta, we would like two things back from you. Our blackness and our money.

Atul Gupta. Picture: Gallo Images

I remember late last year doing a double take when the Sunday Times Rich List came out and declared that Atul Gupta was now the “richest black man” in South Africa, overtaking Patrice Motsepe in the game of billions.

Here is that headline, in case you've forgotten.

Here is that headline, in case you’ve forgotten.

I initially even accepted it, because we’ve become so used to the broad categorisation of “black” in South Africa under the codes that drive BEE and affirmative action, that “black” always includes coloureds, Indians and even Chinese people,– and if you fall into the biggest category outside of these three groups, then you are “black African”.

So the Guptas are “black” because they are Indians. But obviously, they can’t be.

They are simply Indians. They’re from India, and only migrated here from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1993, shortly before the country’s first democratic elections.

The Guptas had nothing to do with the struggle, and certainly can’t even claim much of a family heritage to South Africa, even if they are now South African citizens. They certainly weren’t born here.

If the Guptas are black, therefore, that would mean accepting there are 1.3 billion black people living in India right now, which would probably come as news to them (and not be all that welcome either, considering India, with its much-reviled caste system, continues to be one of the most racist places on earth).

By the same token, if the Guptas are black, then China has about 1.4 billion people living in it who also haven’t been alerted to the fact that, according to South African law, they, too, are black, and should pop over to bid for a tender some time.

Obviously the Guptas are not black, and the Sunday Times Rich List was smoking its socks. That hasn’t stopped people like Andile Mngxitama from siding with the rich family, though, and somehow rationalising it as a “black consciousness” move, when it’s obviously just more of a “thanks for the cheque” quid pro quo.

In a speech today, EFF leader Julius Malema went so far as to make the bold statement that the Guptas’ teary-eyed ally Brian Molefe is also not black, based on the premise – as espoused in the 1970s by Steve Biko – that “blackness” is in fact a state of mind and an attitude that, according to Malema, at least, Molefe does not embody.

I’ve noticed that the references to Atul Gupta as a black man appear to have ceased.

He’s now most often simply referred to as South Africa’s seventh-richest man. I don’t recall anyone actually posting a public challenge about how Atul had been called “black” in the first place last year, but that must have happened, even if it was quite low key and happening on social media.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the Rich List calls Atul in December.

By the time that happens, though, and in a perfect world, we’ll have reclaimed two things that were very wrong about that headline: the fact that Atul Gupta was called black, and the fact that he’s so rich. I don’t mind if he carries on being Zuma’s “friend”. Maybe they can be even “cellmates”.

The point is that the South African definition of blackness is something many Indian people with a heritage in South Africa fought long and hard to be granted.

They deserve it, and all the recognition it brings. The Guptas do not.

So it seems the Gupta brothers took two big things from South Africa and its people I don’t quite think they had any business being entitled to: our blackness and our money.

We’d like both back, please.

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor