State capture, money leaving the country illegally, questionable Eskom coal contracts: these are stories that Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa thinks the media get wrong every time when reporting on the Guptas.
In an exclusive interview with News24, Howa, a former journalist who is despondent about journalism, challenges the narrative:
1. Oakbay blacklisting from banks
In 2016, South Africa’s banks blacklisted all Gupta-owned companies, which Howa has tried with all his might to change. “Unfortunately we have had no progress,” he said. “It’s one of the saddest things in my life… To see the banks act in this way is really… sad for me. To date, we don’t know why they’ve done it.
“I’ve met with two of the banks that were willing to meet with us and not one of them can tell me what it is that we’ve done wrong, other than broad statements,” he said.
“At this point, we do not have a South African bank. We are using one of the foreign banks and we’re using them in a makeshift way to keep the doors open.”
2. On the Guptas’ involvement in Oakbay
“The shareholders have stepped away,” said Howa. “I chair an executive committee. We take the day-to-day business decisions.” Howa later said that the “shareholders” also have rights. “As CEO, I need to brief them on a regular basis about what’s happening in the business.
“The amazing thing for me is their view is essentially, ‘great job, go ahead’. On the odd occasion where I’ve looked for advice, they’ve said to me: ‘it’s your decision’, which places a huge onus on us to get the business right.”
3. The race card and Eskom coal contracts
Howa said non-white companies get over-scrutinised when they enter an industry like mining, and people can’t understand why they could be better than the white-owned companies. “The difficulty facing us is when you – my apologies for saying it – when you are not white and you come into that environment, people always question how you are going to do that.
“We are going to do it through hard work, through innovation, through entrepreneurship.… The amount of times we’ve been questioned, ‘if so-and-so couldn’t do it, how can you do it’? We bring a different approach to our business. We bring a different kind of excitement around the business.
“Our expectation is that we should have the same rights as anybody else to bid for Eskom,” he said. “Don’t, because you want to link us to (the) Guptas or Zuma, exclude us.”
4. On the alleged Reserve Bank probe into Gupta and Oakbay cash leaving SA
“(It’s) absolute rubbish, absolute nonsense, I nearly used a word that you would have to bleep out,” he said. “(The unconfirmed reports come) at a stage when we thought we were coming out of a storm and hoping we can mend fences, fix our relationships with banks and then get back to normal. We want to run our business. We don’t want to be involved in politics.
“Let me make it very, very clear. In the 26 years that we’ve (Oakbay) been in operation, not one single cent has left the country.… I am very surprised that they have that kind of detailed access to our bank accounts first of all. There is no investigation that I am aware of, there is no wrongdoing that I am aware of. If there is any wrongdoing, I am prepared to take responsibility for it. Show us where you have evidence of wrongdoing.”
Regarding allegations of the Guptas leaving South Africa for Dubai with suitcases filled with cash, Howa said one should look at the “science of it”. “Our biggest denomination is R200 notes. Try and fit that amount of notes on a (Boeing) 737. But no journalist thinks that far,” he said.
5. On state capture and media reports
“Let’s deal with this issue of state capture,” he said. “The issue of state capture is absolute nonsense.
“To allow journalists through their coverage to bully us into submission is not going to happen,” he added. “We will continue to grow our business.”
Asked if Oakbay and Tegeta would bid for more Eskom contracts, Howa said: “We are going to be on the hunt.”