Zuma Ties With Guptas Probed by South Africa Graft Ombudsman

  • Public Protector to investigate if Zuma breached ethics act
  • Ruling ANC has started its own investigation into Guptas' role

South Africa’s graft ombudsman plans to investigate whether President Jacob Zuma breached the Executive Members Ethics Act through his relationship with the Gupta family, its spokeswoman said, two days after the ruling African National Congress said it was starting its own probe.

The investigation by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela followed a formal request by Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, for a probe into whether Zuma was involved in the alleged offer of ministerial positions by members of the Gupta family, Madonsela’s spokeswoman Kgalalelo Masibi said by phone Tuesday. Zuma has described the Guptas, who are in business with his son, as his friends.

Thuli Madonsela
Thuli Madonsela
Photographer: Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

“The Public Protector is compelled to conduct an investigation when a complaint is lodged under the Executive Members Ethics act by a member of parliament,” Masibi said. Madonsela has 30 days to compile a report on the issue, she said.

Gupta Allegations

The allegations over the Guptas have fueled disgruntlement with Zuma that peaked in December when he replaced his respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little-known lawmaker, sparking a selloff of the rand and the nation’s bonds. Four days later, Zuma reappointed Pravin Gordhan to the post which he had held from 2009 to 2014, after coming under pressure from ANC and business leaders.

Gordhan has been trying to bolster investor confidence in an economy that’s set to grow less than 1 percent this year and is threatened by a credit-rating downgrade. Standard & Poor’s has a negative outlook on its BBB- rating, one level above junk. While Moody’s Investors Service rates South Africa’s debt one notch higher, its has put the nation on review for a downgrade.

The rand declined as much as 16 percent against the dollar in the weeks after Zuma fired Nene on Dec. 9. As of 1:23 p.m. in Johannesburg on Tuesday, it was 4.4 percent lower than the day before the finance minister was replaced.

Two ANC members, including Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, have said that the Guptas offered them ministerial posts, allegations they deny. The Gupta family welcomed the ANC review in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.

Constitutional Case

Zuma is also facing a lawsuit by the two main opposition parties claiming that he violated the constitution when he failed to obey a ruling by Madonsela that he repay some of the state funds spent on upgrading his private home in the village of Nkandla.

“The Gupta issue and the Nkandla issue: politically, these have been key criticisms of the Jacob Zuma presidency, key examples that have constantly been raised to indicate a kind of patronage and carelessness with power and money,” Nic Borain, a Cape Town-based political analyst and adviser to BNP Paribas Securities South Africa, said by phone on Tuesday.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said on Sunday that he would compile a report on the Guptas and urged party members to provide information about their alleged role in trying to influence government policies.

Gupta Review

“We’ll get the information, get the report, process it, ask questions,” Mantashe said after a three-day meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee in Pretoria, the capital. “If we must confront the Guptas, we will confront the Guptas.”

The Gupta family said it would cooperate with the ANC review.

“We welcome this process which should ultimately allow the truth to be recognized and end this current trial by innuendo and slander,” the family said in an e-mailed statement.

Mantashe said on SAfm radio that party officials would meet Tuesday with three pro-ANC groups, the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, that wrote a joint letter last week expressing deep “concern about the current course on which our country is headed.”

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