A work visa for former ANN7 news channel editor Rajesh Sundaram took less than a day to clear at the South African High Commission in India through the facilitation of Gupta family associate Ashul Chawla, the state capture commission of inquiry heard on Monday.
Sundaram took the stand on Monday to testify about his experience in South Africa after he was head-hunted in India to come to South Africa and help establish the now-defunct television channel for the controversial Gupta family. He published a book in 2018 titled Indentured, in which he detailed the depth of the working relationship between former president Jacob Zuma and the fugitive Indian family.
The senior broadcast journalist said he was recruited in his home country in 2013 by businessman Laxmi Goel on a two-year Infinity Media contract for the Guptas. Goel’s Essel Media was in a partnership with the Gupta family-owned company.
Sundaram said he did an internet search and realised it would take some time before the South African authorities could clear a work visa. However, he was told not to worry as there was a “setting with the highest office” in South Africa.
His visa was cleared by the department of home affairs within a day, he told the Zondo-led commission.
“I handed documents to Goel, who handed them to Mr Chawla. Everything I read on the internet and the time it would take for visa processing were bypassed. I was not interviewed and didn’t even have to go to the high commission’s office… my visa was cleared within a day.”
Goel told him the process was “perfectly legal”, he said.
On 22 May 2013, he received a letter from former home affairs director-general Mkhuseleni Apleni confirming his work visa in South Africa.
Sundaram testified that he arrived in the country in June and was accommodated at the Gupta’s guest house in Midrand. He described the guesthouse as a “labour camp”. There were six people living there and only three bedrooms. One of them was a Nepalese man who was hired as a housekeeper and cook, he told the commission.
“It was a very shocking environment. The Nepalese arrived on a tourist visa. He was hired in South Africa but his salary was not paid here but in India… he earned R300 a month, the money was kept by Goel in India.”
Directors of Infinity media included Goel, Atul Gupta, Zuma’s son Duduzane, former managing editor of defunct Gupta-owned newspaper The New Age Garry Naidoo, its ex-editor Moegsien Williams, former Gupta-media owner-turned-politician Mzwanele Manyi and Zamaswazi Mandela – the granddaughter of late statesman Nelson Mandela.
Sundaram said the Guptas wanted to make a profit quickly and put him and his team under pressure to set up the station as soon as possible without considering the channel’s content. He said he left South Africa after just four months.
The inquiry continues.
– African News Agency