This is the story of how one great, big Indian wedding got South Africa’s president in the hot seat. In early May, Vega Gupta, the delicate 23-year-old daughter of a wealthy, politically connected family, married Aakash Jahajgarhia, the handsome 24-year-old son of an Indian property developer, at Sun City, an extravagant gambling resort north of Johannesburg. On the day of the $7.5-million event, Gupta emerged from a giant lotus-flower sculpture and was pulled across a pool on a raft flanked by synchronized swimmers, before exchanging her vows.
It all went to plan—except for the logistics, which caused a national controversy. That’s because some members of the wedding party landed in a jet at Air Force Base Waterkloof, a military base. Then, the 200 or so guests were escorted from the airport in a 121-car convoy led by police, screaming down the highway with blazing blue lights.
The scandal has frustrated South Africans who see it as an example of cronyism between government and big business. (One of President Jacob Zuma’s four wives and one of his sons work for the Guptas and their media and technology companies).
The controversy doesn’t stop there. The Guptas were accused of being racist during the four-day festivities, when black staff working at the resort said they were told to bathe and brush their teeth before serving Gupta guests.
The government denies authorizing the plane, has sacked several high-ranking officials and, under public pressure, launched an investigation into the landing. But within a few days last week, Zuma was first absolved by a government probe, only to be implicated in a government report into the scandal. Key was evidence from a diplomatic protocol chief, since fired, saying he acted “under pressure from No. 1,” a direct reference to the president.
“There is a widely held perception that when the Guptas say ‘jump’, the president says, ‘how high?’ ” David Maynier, an MP with the opposition Democratic Alliance, said in parliament over what is now widely known in the country as Guptagate.