Ex-CEO of the Gupta family’s Oakbay Investments, Nazeem Howa, bragged about a “sweet deal” from the SABC that allowed its television station ANN7 access to millions of rands worth of archive material for “peanuts”, the state capture commission of inquiry heard on Tuesday.
The consulting editor of the now-defunct ANN7 news channel Rajesh Sundaram was on the stand for the second day at the Zondo-led commission on Tuesday.
He gave evidence on his experience at the Gupta’s television channel. Sundaram arrived in South Africa in 2013 to establish ANN7, headquartered in Midrand, Johannesburg.
Most of his evidence at the commission is based on his tell-all book titled “Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV” published in 2018.
Howa was one of the top executives in the Gupta’s vast business empire.
Sundaram said he first heard about the SABC deal while still in India, from Gupta business partner, Laxmi Goel, who told him not to worry about broadcast material because one of the Gupta brothers and Howa had arranged to obtain historical archive footage at “throw away prices.”
Howa repeated the same sentiments to him, Sunduram testified.
“He [Howa] described the sweet deal as peanuts, and that someone stupid at SABC agreed to that. The Guptas hired a professional archivist from India to digitise the SABC archive. The Indian archivist was asked to go to SABC in Auckland Park for at least a month and record eight hour footage.
“He would then digitise the material over the weekend so that it can be used for broadcasting…this was surprising to me.. a broadcaster giving a huge supply of oxygen to the competitor just like that? I would charge millions of rands because those were archives were gold material. The older the archive, the more expensive it is…for example, archives containing Nelson Mandela footage in the 1970s is more expensive compared to that of Julius Malema shot just yesterday.”
Sundaram testified that the deal was that every time ANN7 used SABC archive material, they would have to pay a fee but there was no monitoring system on either side of the broadcasters.
The Guptas paid in bulk for at least 100 minutes of the precious archives. He said officials at the SABC knew that the former president Jacob Zuma had a close relationship with the Guptas and complied.
“They said they didn’t even require cash bribes…they [Guptas] just took people out to meals. People at the SABC knew that the Guptas were close to the president.”
The then SABC board promised to investigate the ANN7 deal in March last year following the publication of the explosive book. It is not yet known what happened to that probe.