South African president rejects allegations of corruption

AP News
Posted: Mar 17, 2016 11:15 AM
South African president rejects allegations of corruption

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — President Jacob Zuma on Thursday rejected allegations that he is influenced by a wealthy business family, declaring under sharp criticism from opposition lawmakers that he is in charge of the appointment of Cabinet ministers in South Africa.

A day before, the country's deputy finance minister issued a public statement saying the politically connected Gupta family directly offered him the finance minister job in December, around the time that the incumbent, Nhlanhla Nene, was sacked in a move that rattled markets.

In a combative exchange in parliament, Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said to Zuma: "Is the president willing to take accountability for the decision and resign in front of the people of South Africa?"

"I am in charge of the government, I appoint in terms of the Constitution," President Jacob Zuma responded, to cheers from ruling party parliamentarians. "There is no minister who is here who was ever appointed by the Guptas or by anybody else."

Opposition lawmakers said Zuma's decision to fire the finance minister, replace him with a relatively unknown parliamentarian, and then again replace him with a more experienced former finance minister weakened the economy and currency.

Zuma denied this, saying the rand was already in decline before he shuffled finance ministers. Maimane attempted to challenge the president and was told to leave by the Parliament speaker.

As he left, members of the Democratic Alliance followed him out. They and other critics say the alleged influence of the Gupta family over Zuma is a threat to the country's democracy.

Earlier in the day, members of the Democratic Alliance filed a legal complaint alleging that the Gupta family had broken South Africa's anti-corruption laws. Maimane said Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas's statement provided evidence after numerous allegations of "state favors, murky business relationships and clear-cut nepotism" between the president and the wealthy family.

In revealing the Guptas' alleged offer, Jonas said Wednesday he rejected it because "it makes a mockery of our hard earned democracy."

The family denied the deputy minister's claim, dismissing it as infighting between rival factions of the ruling African National Congress party.

"Any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false," the family said in a statement Wednesday.

Earlier this week, another ruling party member alleged that the Guptas offered her the post of minister of public enterprises, the department that handles South Africa's national electricity supplier and national airline carrier. South Africa's sports minister has denied allegations from opposition party members that the Guptas offered him his ministerial portfolio.

The Guptas have been entrepreneurs in South Africa since they emigrated from India in 1993, with thriving businesses ranging from computer technology to media outlets and energy and mining, with their holdings firm listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2014, according to the company's website.

The family's perceived influence has even irked some senior members of the ruling party.

"When the Gupta family says in its response, it's about factions in the (African National Congress), I look at that and I came to the conclusion that it's an arrogance of power," ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told eNCA, an independent South African television news station.

Mantashe dismissed public speculation that Zuma will be recalled by the party and forced to resign.