GuptaLeaks: Magda Wierzycka forced to flee SA weeks before Gupta emails bombshell
Source: Kyle Cowan – News 24
Magda Wierzycka (Photo: Gallo Images)
- Businesswoman Magda Wierzycka was driven to flee the country after she was warned the Gupta family would imminently learn of her involvement in the GuptaLeaks
- After securing protection for her family, she spent five days in a London hotel room, sifting through hundreds of thousands of emails, and pulling together the most relevant emails.
- Wierzycka reveals that she then made copies of only the most relevant emails, and “democratised the data” by providing it to heads of trade unions, political parties and Cabinet ministers.
Businesswoman Magda Wierzycka fled to the Maldives with her family in late April 2017, fearing for their safety, driven out of the country by a rumour that “a cache of dangerous information about the Guptas [that] was ‘floating around’ and was about to become public”.
Within weeks, the Sunday Times and City Press would publish a selection of the emails, providing the first insight into the Gupta Leaks, showing that the family controlled South Africa through their connection with former president Jacob Zuma and a long line of ANC loyalists and government officials.
Wierzycka reveals for the first time that she had not leaked the emails to the newspapers, an accusation levelled by journalists involved in the leaks from the start, in her new book, Magda: My Journey, which is available in bookstores from 25 April.
But before the existence of the emails became public knowledge, Wierzycka had reason to be worried about the rumours.
She had been secretly involved in helping the whistleblowers who needed money to flee the country, after she was approached by Daily Maverick editor, Branko Brkic.
“Concerned about my own involvement, I decided to seek legal advice. My lawyers advised me to obtain an affidavit from the whistleblower verifying how he or she came to be in possession of the information, to preserve the chain of evidence,” she wrote.
They also warned that I had probably only a couple of days before the Gupta family heard of my involvement and that it would be wise to safeguard my family. My family and I left South Africa for the Maldives the next day and we stayed away until I could arrange personal security for us all.
Weeks later, in mid-May, she flew to London, with a plan to “democratise” the information, as her lawyers had advised.
“By that stage the whistleblower was meant to have left South Africa. Certainly, public knowledge of the existence of the data had put them in even greater danger,” she said.
Wierzycka said that she had warned the journalists that the emails would have “legal and political implications and that the impact would be felt in South Africa for years to come” and she shared her view that the information should be made public as soon as possible “rather than spending months analysing it and writing piecemeal articles while South Africa burned”.
“They ignored my concerns. For my protection, I kept a copy of everything.
“Based on all the advice I had received, I resorted to making multiple copies of the data for distribution. I spent five days in a hotel room in London, reading over 200 000 emails and classifying the most relevant into folders and storylines.
“I then made multiple copies of the storyline folders for distribution to recipients whom I believed would democratise the data by virtue of their senior positions, including heads of trade unions, heads of political parties, Cabinet ministers and other public figures.
“My aim was to publicise the information as quickly as possible without endangering any lives. I did not send the information to any media outlets,” she explained.
Fin24 previously reported that the identity and rationale of the second leaker – which resulted in the Sunday Times and City Press getting copies of the emails – was for a long time a mystery, until Wierzycka was named by journalism professor Anton Harber in his 2020 book So, For the Record.
At the time she did not confirm on the record that she had ‘re-leaked’ some of the leaks.
Brkic called the leaking of some of the emails to the Sunday Times and City Press “a gut punch, a betrayal of the worst kind”.
Daily Maverick and amaBhungane had planned to spend months sifting through the emails, to deliver an explosive series of stories later on. But, Wierzycka has previously accused them of being “careless”, a charge that is denied by those involved. She based this on the fact that rumours had begun to circulate.
“I never wanted my involvement to become public knowledge,” she wrote. “I certainly did not anticipate the consequences.”
I am only writing about it now as the information has been put in the public domain…but I do not regret my role.
She said the GuptaLeaks brought the first tangible proof of just how corrupt the government had become. “South Africans suddenly woke up to the fact that the costs of state capture were astronomical and mounting.”
Wierzycka details the huge toll the events took not only on her, but also her husband and two sons, the younger who was accompanied by bodyguards every day for the last two years of his school life.
Her personal protection detail continues to this day.
“From my return to South Africa until Zuma resigned as president, my cellphone was tapped and I was followed by state security agents. They would stop me at the airport every time I flew into South Africa and harass me for at least an hour,” she says.
She also received death threats on social media.
“I was made into unpleasant memes. I was accused of involvement in prostitution. My name was linked to Polish assassin Janusz Walus by Twitter bots. It was clear that I was on the radar. Whether it was a function of being outspoken or of my association with the Gupta Leaks, I will never know,” Wierzycka wrote.
In Magda, Wierzycka tells the story of how she came to South Africa as a teenager, having fled communist Poland with her parents, and how she became the country’s most successful businesswoman.
According to the publishers, Penguin Random House, it is an intimate and motivational account.