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Gupta Family Flight Hangs Over South African Mine


In the dusty town of Klerksdorp, where mining is the main activity, locals say the Gupta-owned Shiva Uranium Mine underpaid and mistreated some 700 workers. (A. Powell/VOA)

South Africa's investigation into the influential Gupta family has cut a wide swath through the country.The family, which fled South Africa earlier this year, stands accused of high-level corruption going up all the way to the office of former President Jacob Zuma.

But their business activities in poor communities have also left deep wounds, residents say. In the dusty town of Klerksdorp, where mining is the main activity, locals say the Gupta-owned Shiva Uranium Mine underpaid and mistreated its some 700 workers.

Mine worker Abram Serapelo, 30, said he hasn't been paid on time in months, since the Guptas' India-based bank pulled out of South Africa in February.

Abram Serapelo is ready to work but he has no idea when -- or if -- he’ll be paid. He’s one of some 700 workers at the Shiva Uranium mine who are waiting for late salaries from the Gupta family, Indian businessmen who fled South Africa in February amid a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption and influence at the highest government levels. (A. Powell/VOA)
Abram Serapelo is ready to work but he has no idea when -- or if -- he’ll be paid. He’s one of some 700 workers at the Shiva Uranium mine who are waiting for late salaries from the Gupta family, Indian businessmen who fled South Africa in February amid a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption and influence at the highest government levels. (A. Powell/VOA)

"We don't know if we are still working, or we still have the job, or if we are safe as workers," he told VOA.

Khaya Ngaleka, the regional chairman of the National Union of Mineworkers, said he has heard worrying reports of ill-treatment and poor safety practices at Shiva Mine — an indication that even the family's above-board enterprises cut corners.

"It's bad conditions, they're underpaid, they're not actually having what other employees in other companies who are doing the very same job are having," he said.

Former Shiva Mine worker Job Majelenyane, currently without a job, said he can attest to that, having earned exactly half at the Gupta mine as he did at a competitor, for doing the same job.

He said he feels the Gupta family has left the community — which depends on the mines for employment — in tatters. He criticized them for underpaying workers.

"I'm feeling so very bad because of that thing that has given the whole country and the whole community around the mines a whole hell of poverty," he said.

Focusing on big crimes

Attention naturally centers around the highest-level corruption and around the Guptas' top ally, former President Jacob Zuma. Zuma is dealing with two investigations — one into alleged kickbacks on an arms deal that pre-dates the Guptas' arrival in South Africa, the other into his relationship with the Guptas.

A top corruption watchdog said it is a complex web that could take years to unravel.

Leanne Govindsamy, who heads the legal and investigations team at the Johannesburg-based Corruption Watch, said it's necessary that the full story be told. And "one of the positives of a commission of inquiry, is that it can, in the long run, tell a fuller story, a fuller story than a criminal investigation would reveal."

That's little comfort for Serapelo, who said recent police raids on his former employers' luxury home in Johannesburg don't give him much satisfaction. He's more worried about the 11 family members he supports.

"Maybe Zuma is going to trial, but the real culprits are not going to trial as we speak," he said, as he prepared to go work the evening shift at the mine. "The Guptas are still free. ... I'm not saying Zuma is a bad person or a good person, but Zuma, he was robbed also, as we were robbed as South Africans."

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