Zuma Pressed to Fire Errant South African Mining Minister

  • Presidency said minister Zwane misrepresented cabinet’s view
  • Opposition party calls for Zwane to quit or be dismissed

South African President Jacob Zuma is facing growing pressure from within the ruling party to fire Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane after his false statement about a cabinet decision to set up a judicial investigation into banking oversight bodies.

Zwane’s actions embarrassed the African National Congress, and the party’s top six officials, who include Zuma, need to discuss the minister’s dismissal, said two senior ANC leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Zwane said in a Sept. 1 statement that the cabinet authorized the inquiry after South Africa’s four biggest banks cut ties to the Gupta family, who’re friends of Zuma. The presidency repudiated Zwane’s account, saying it was “issued in his personal capacity,” and did “not reflect the position or views of cabinet, the presidency or government.”

Questioned by a lawmaker Wednesday on whether he would resign, Zwane said the decision “belongs to cabinet and not parliament.” Martin Madlala, the spokesman of the Department of Mineral Resources, didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

Zuma Criticism

Zwane’s statement stoked criticism that Zuma’s government lacks direction and is too heavily influenced by the Gupta family. Senior officials previously claimed the Guptas offered them cabinet posts. Zuma has also been implicated in numerous scandals, including a ruling by the nation’s top court that taxpayer money paid for an upgrade of his private home. The controversies have weighed on the rand and the nation’s bonds and heightened the risk of the country’s credit rating being downgraded to junk by the end of the year.

“I don’t think Zuma will fire him,” said Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute of Strategic Reflection, a Johannesburg-based research group. “Zwane has calculated well. He knows which way the wind is blowing and has acted in the interest of people closely associated with the president.”

The Guptas gained national attention in 2013 when they flew 217 people in a chartered jetliner to the Waterkloof air-force base in Pretoria, the capital, for their niece’s wedding. As a “National Key Point,” the facility is prohibited from undertaking commercial activities. Johannesburg’s Business Day and the Mail & Guardian newspapers reported that Zwane helped to gain permission for the Guptas to use the base, an allegation Zwane denies.

Gupta Business

Zwane previously called on the banks to resume doing business with the Guptas. He led an inter-ministerial committee to look into the banks’ decision to sever ties with Oakbay Investments Ltd., owned by the Gupta family, which is in business with one of the president’s sons.

“Our South African bank accounts remain closed and we remain none the wiser as to why this is the case,” Oakbay Investments said in a statement Thursday. “We intend to reach out in coming weeks, again, to the four banks, and implore them to reopen our accounts.”

Zwane also suggested to the cabinet that it withdraw the central bank’s authority to license lenders and make it the responsibility of the finance minister, Business Day newspaper reported Aug. 31.

Opposition Demands

The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has called for Zwane to be dismissed or resign.

“The minister has allowed himself to become a hired gun for the Guptas, effectively recommending that the executive investigate the termination of certain financial services via a judicial commission of inquiry,” David Maynier, the DA’s finance spokesman, said in parliament on Wednesday.

Zwane said Maynier had no right to ask him to resign.

His critics should “allow the due processes to unfold, so that during those processes we can prove once and for all that the people of South Africa have issues with banks,” he said.

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