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Jacob Zuma denies influence of wealthy Gupta family in South African cabinet



The South African leader, Jacob Zuma, has denied letting a family of wealthy industrialists hand out posts in his cabinet, as he battles to contain a snowballing corruption scandal that could threaten his presidency.

Ahead of a key meeting of the ruling party’s leadership this weekend, a top power-broker from Zuma’s own African National Congress has warned that the country risks becoming a “mafia state” if corruption is not tackled.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma

At the heart of the controversy is the relationship between Zuma, his allies and associates, and the wealthy, influential and colourful Gupta family, who once used a military airforce base to fly in guests from India for a glitzy wedding.

On Wednesday the country’s deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, said in a public statement that members of the Gupta family had offered him the ministerial post in December, after the incumbent, Nhlanhla Nene, was abruptly sacked.

He said he had rejected the job “out of hand”, because the offer of a cabinet post from someone outside government “makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy”. The Guptas denied the allegation, saying it was “totally false” and “just more political point scoring between rival factions” within the ANC.

Nene, who had a combative relationship with Zuma, was instead replaced by a virtually unknown backbencher, but he lasted for less than a week. As the rand and government bonds were battered on global markets, top ANC powerbrokers reportedly forced Zuma to backtrack and appoint an experienced former finance minister.

Jonas’s claim this week prompted one of the ANC’s top power brokers to warn that the country risked sliding into a “mafia state” if a web of corruption and influence peddling that critics say has been spun around the government was not untangled.

“We need to deal with this. It will degenerate into a mafia state if this goes on,” the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, told Bloomberg.

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

But in a combative appearance before parliament, Zuma rejected accusations that he had delegated control of the finance ministry to the Gupta family.

“I am in charge of the government, I appoint in terms of the constitution,” Zuma said, to cheers from ruling party parliamentarians. “There is no minister who is here who was ever appointed by the Guptas or by anybody else.”

Jonas is not the only politician to allege the Guptas brokered top jobs in South Africa. Former ANC member of parliament Vytjie Mentor earlier this week said in a posting on Facebook that she had been offered the post of minister of public enterprises while she was in the Gupta mansion in 2010, when Zuma was in a nearby room. Zuma’s office have denied this, Reuters reported.

Opposition party members have also claimed that the sports minister was helped into his job by the Guptas, allegations he has denied.

The Gupta family emigrated from India in 1993, seeking business opportunities in post-apartheid South Africa, and now preside over a wide range of corporate interests from mining to IT and media.

They have denied any role in deciding any ministerial jobs. In their statement on Wednesday they said: “Any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false.”

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