Court to Decide Fate of S. Africa Report on Zuma-Gupta LinkBy and
Probe is about alleged influence of Gupta family on government
Thuli Madonsela ends her term as public protector on Saturday
The release of a report by South Africa’s graft ombudsman into the alleged influence of President Jacob Zuma’s friends, the Gupta family, in government affairs has become bogged down in the courts, with legal actions lodged to both block and force its publication.
Both Zuma and local government minister David van Rooyen have asked the High Court in Pretoria to halt its release, while the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters is asking the tribunal to order its publication. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who steps down Saturday after seven years in office, has said she won’t unveil the document until the courts decide.
High Court Judge Dawie Fourie agreed to a proposal that the hearing on all the cases be postponed until Nov. 1. He also recommended that a “preservation order” be imposed on the report to ensure it’s not changed before then.
Madonsela has handed over the final draft of the report to the speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, for safe keeping, she told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.
The investigation relates to the dismissal and appointment of cabinet ministers and board members and directors of state-owned companies and possibly corrupt influence in the awarding of state contracts and licenses to companies linked to the Gupta family, according to Madonsela’s office. She will be succeeded as graft ombudsman by Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Zuma is concerned about the damage the release of the report may cause, the Johannesburg-based Sowetan newspaper cited him as saying in the affidavit accompanying the request to the court.
“The respondents have informed me that if I don’t provide evidence that contradicts the evidence they have, then there would be a possibility they could find the allegations against me will be sustained by that untested evidence,” it quoted him as saying. “Even though this is an interim report, the effect and impact on my person and office I hold will be irreparable.”
Zuma has come under pressure to explain his relationship with the Guptas, who he says are friends and are in business with his son, after current and former government officials claimed the family tried to influence their decisions. The controversy around the family prompted the nation’s largest banks to close accounts belonging to companies owned by the Guptas. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas said in March that members of the family offered him the post of finance minister before Nhlanhla Nene was fired from the position and replaced by Van Rooyen, at the time a little-known lawmaker. The move sparked a rand and bond rout and led to the reappointment of Pravin Gordhan after business and political leaders intervened.
Zuma was forced to repay 7.8 million rand ($550,000) after the nation’s top court ruled in March that Zuma had violated the constitution for failing to abide by Madonsela’s finding that the president should pay back taxpayer money spent on upgrading his private residence.
Zuma this week requested permission to question witnesses who Madonsela had interviewed and to be allowed to present his evidence before the report was published. She responded that the president had canceled two earlier meetings and had had sufficient time to give his testimony.
The ruling African National Congress said it “looks forward to the imminent release” of the report.
The report “will assist the ANC and South Africa to gain clarity on the allegations and point to the resolution of the reported challenges,” the ruling party said in a statement.