Madonsela wants more resources to probe Gupta family

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said she was looking at "specifically whether or not the government of South Africa and specifically the president unlawfully allowed the Gupta family to choose ministers and other occupants of high office." Photo: Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG - South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said on Tuesday she wants more resources to investigate whether President Jacob Zuma allowed a wealthy business family to decide on cabinet appointments.

The scandal surrounding the Gupta family took a dramatic turn earlier this year after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said they had offered him his boss's job, an allegation that led to calls for Zuma to resign.

Madonsela told reporters she was looking at "specifically whether or not the government of South Africa and specifically the president unlawfully allowed the Gupta family to choose ministers and other occupants of high office."

Zuma has denied Jonas' claims, saying only the president appointed ministers, in line with the constitution. The Guptas have denied influencing Zuma, saying they were pawns in a political plot against the president.

When it first broke, the affair threatened to shake Zuma's hold on his ruling African National Congress party.

But the president won the backing of its top decision-making group, which is stacked with his loyalists, and the party has since set aside the Gupta issue.

Madonsela, the country's anti-corruption watchdog, did not say what additional resources she required to carry out the investigation, which she said she hoped to complete before her term ends in October.

The Public Protector's office was also investigating whether there was "unlawful awarding of government contracts and licenses to the Gupta businesses", she said.

The Guptas, who moved to South Africa from India after apartheid fell in 1994, run businesses ranging from uranium and coal mining to media and information technology.

DEATH THREATS

Madonsela has received public support in South Africa for taking Zuma to task over the R240-million of state money spent upgrading his private home, Nkandla.

She was vindicated in March when the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, said Zuma had breached the constitution by ignoring her recommendation that he repay some money that was spent on non-security upgrades.

Zuma has since then agreed to hand back some of the funds.

Madonsela said she was also investigating whether a surveillance unit set up at the national revenue service was above board. The revenue agency was led at the time by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Police have said they are not investigating Gordhan as part of their probe into the activities of the spy unit. Madonsela said her office was "wrapping up" its investigation of the unit, but gave no details.

She said although she had faced death threats, smear campaigns by targets of her investigative work and claims by some politicians that she was a CIA spy, she had no regrets about taking on the job.

"There are a few deviants who decide to play the person as opposed to the ball. They know we don't make the rules -- we enforce them," she said.

"More recently it has been a case of setting a fire behind the guardians of democracy or the watchdogs. so then you are distracted by the fire behind your back."

Reuters

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