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S.Africa's Zuma under pressure in new graft scandal

17 March 2016, 15:24

Cape Town - Shock revelations about a wealthy Indian family's interference in South African government affairs set embattled President Jacob Zuma up for a high-pressure appearance in parliament Thursday.

The admission by deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was offered the top job in the treasury by the Gupta family caused outrage in a country already alarmed by a series of corruption scandals.

The Gupta brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh were smalltime businessmen back home but have built up a string of companies with interests in computers, mining, media and engineering since moving to South Africa in the 1990s.

They have long been accused of wielding undue influence over Zuma, whose son Duduzane is a partner in some of their businesses. Zuma's third wife also used to work for them.

Jonas said he received a threatening text message while he was preparing his statement exposing the job offer by the Guptas, the Business Day reported.

The newspaper quoted the message from an unnamed businessman as reading: "Please keep your own counsel. Martyrdom is best left to Christ."

In his statement on Wednesday, Jonas said: "Members of the Gupta family offered me the position of Minister of Finance to replace then-minister Nene. I rejected this out of hand."

The Guptas, who had attracted controversy a few years ago by flying in wedding guests at the Waterkloof air base which is normally reserved for visiting heads of state and diplomatic delegations, issued a statement denying Jonas's claims.

But even the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has expressed concern about the graft allegations, amid speculation that the president's position at the head of the party could be fatally weakened.

"We need to deal with this; it will degenerate into a mafia state if this goes on," ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told Bloomberg News.

"The fact we are talking about this so boldly now shows that things are going to change."

Also read: South Africa, Nigeria: African giants battle for economic supremacy

- Economic woes -

The ANC, which led the struggle to end apartheid, holds a meeting of its national executive committee starting on Friday, where the Gupta issue is likely to dominate.

The official opposition party in parliament, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said the latest developments make Zuma's position "increasingly untenable".

"He, and the ANC, need to consider whether he should resign from office, or be recalled."

The party said it would lay corruption charges against the Gupta family.

Zuma faces parliament for a scheduled question time later Thursday, where he will meet a barrage of questions -- including on the country's dire economic situation.

The alleged job offer to Jonas occurred before Zuma sacked respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December -- a move that triggered a collapse in the rand and massive withdrawal of foreign investment.

Nene was replaced by little-known lawmaker David van Rooyen, who was widely seen as a weak placeman for Zuma loyalists such as the Guptas.

His appointment caused such a negative reaction that Zuma sacked him after just four days and reappointed Pravin Gordhan, who served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014.

Gordhan is leading efforts to try to restore confidence in the economy and avoid a downgrade of the country's debt to junk status by the ratings agencies.

Another ANC member, Vytjie Mentor, also alleged this week that she was offered a cabinet post by the Guptas -- an accusation that Zuma denied.

The Guptas are also alleged to have determined the appointment of other government figures, including minister of mines Mosebenzi Zwane.

Zuma, a veteran political survivor whose term in office ends in 2019, has previously defended his friendship with the Guptas.



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