On Tuesday (22.03.2016) South Africa’s Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela opened a new chapter in the ongoing saga of the Gupta family’s influence in public affairs. The nation's top anti-corruption watchdog is is planning to investigate President Jacob Zuma's relationship with the wealthy Guptas. DW’s Africalink spoke to Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst based in Cape Town, about yet another scandal involving the South-Africa's leader.
DW: What are the latest developments in this affair?
Daniel Silke: At the meeting of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC) there was, I think, a very frank discussion with President Zuma in attendance. It does seem from reports that we have seen in the last days that President Zuma was confronted about not only his links with the Gupta family, but also the undue influence that the Guptas seem to have in the appointment, or at least intended appointment of senior cabinet ministers in South Africa. A confrontation of some sort did take place within this highest body of the ruling party. President Zuma has been able to hold on to the presidency, but it does look as though the tide has certainly turned against the role of the Guptas in these business linkages. The ruling party is going to institute an investigation into these business linkages and the influence of the Guptas. I think the president in a sense has been further weakened because of his association with this prominent family. But he has survived to live another day. It looks like he will be leading the ANC in the big local government election campaign that we are going to have by mid-year.
There have been claims by senior party and government officials that the Gupta family is interfering with the running of the government. But how much influence does the Gupta family actually have in South Africa?
Well, it is very difficult to quantify this. As I’ve said, we will have an investigation from the ruling party and also, potentially, from the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who herself has said that she is going to look into ways to assess the exact influence that they allegedly have. All we now so far is that there have been extensive business dealings between the president’s son and the Guptas, which is point number one. And point number two, and that’s really what has been the big issue in South Africa, involves apparent offers of cabinet ministerial positions made directly by
Independent analyst Daniel Silke
the Guptas to certain key individuals in the ruling African National Congress, clearly with the hope that there would be some favors elicited if those positions were accepted. A number of ANC officials have come forward to admit that they had been approached by the Guptas and offered these cabinet positions, which are purely the prerogative of President Jacob Zuma. Business interests are one thing. But that level of meddling, the ability of the Guptas to even offer these positions, or at least claim to offer them, that has got Jacob Zuma’s own political party particularly angry and I might add also highly embarrassed.
What do you think that the ANC led investigation will achieve?
I certainly think that we need more than just an ANC investigation. We clearly need an independent investigation and the office of the Public Protector is probably the best place to do that. I would be more skeptical of an ANC investigation, given that many of the parties involved are, of course, senior ANC members, including the president. Still, the matter is so embarrassing, I think it has opened up many divisions within the ruling party and I don’t think the issue can be swept under the carpet anymore. I think for the ANC this is an issue that needs to be tackled and the Guptas need to be held to account. An ANC investigation may heavily criticize the role of the Guptas, but the real issue is, of course, who is linked with Guptas? Is the president linked with the Guptas in some real way? It will be difficult for the ANC’s own internal commission of inquiry to really point too many fingers at senior ANC people. So I think we are going to need an independent assessment of this whole saga. That is some months from coming to reality. We’ll go through an election campaign, I think, largely with this uncertainty hanging over us.
Why isn’t there more skepticism in the ANC?
I think there is skepticism from many parts in the ANC. What you have to understand is the ANC does face a difficult election campaign. They don’t want to take action against their own president only a few months before the election campaign. That would be detrimental to the ANC’s performance at the polls. Also, Jacob Zuma still has many followers and supporters in senior echelons of the party, who rely upon his own support. They are not likely to turn on the president at this particular time. For those reasons the president is relatively secure. But the question will be how secure is he in future? And has his power been further eroded as a result of this? I think there is anger, there is skepticism; I think there is annoyance within many quarters of the ANC and others outside of the formal party structures who support the ANC. There is a severe embarrassment. It is not as though this matter has been ignored by the ANC or by South Africa. It is probably the most damaging issue for the ANC and particularly for President Zuma. And it will still continue to bubble not only under the surface, but above the surface over the next few months or perhaps even into the next year.
Daniel Silke is an independent political analyst specializing in South African and International politics.
Interview: Eunice Wanjiru