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Guptagate: ANC backs Zuma

Chrispin Mwakideu (AFP, Reuters, AP)March 21, 2016

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has called for an investigation into the Gupta affair. Meanwhile, the National Executive Council of the ruling ANC has thrown its support behind President Zuma.

South African President Jacob Zuma.
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

The decision by the DA, South Africa's main opposition party, to demand an investigation into the Gupta family follows new revelations by Themba Maseko, former head of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). Maseko said prior to a meeting with the Gupta family in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, he allegedly received a phone call from President Jacob Zuma asking him to "help them [the Gupta family]".

It is alleged that during the meeting, Ajay Gupta said he wanted the New Age newspaper, which is owned by the Gupta family, to be given preference for government advertising. When Maseko declined a follow-up meeting, Ajay purportedly told him "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you." Maseko was later moved from his position as the head of GCIS.

Phumzile van Damme, communications spokesperson for the DA, said President Zuma's attempt to improperly benefit the Gupta family was a clear violation of the Executive Ethics Act. "The DA will lay criminal charges - in terms of Section 4 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004 (Act No 12 of 2004) - against the Guptas for what now amounts to further prima facie evidence of an attempt to improperly benefit from public resources," van Damme said.

South African independent analyst Ralph Mathegka told DW that it would be very difficult for South Africa's public protector to prove that the Gupta family had influence on President Zuma. "The President has the prerogative to appoint ministers and the ANC National Executive Committee said Zuma consulted them concerning appointments," Mathegka said. According to the political analyst, the Gupta affair has to do with the ethics of South African politics and can't be dealt with legalistically.

South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane called for President Zuma's resignation following Jonas' allegationsImage: imago/Gallo Images

ANC sticks with Zuma

The latest accusations are a slap in the face of the president after he sought to reassure parliament that he knew nothing about the Gupta family soliciting government favors or their influence in the appointment of cabinet posts.

Last week, President Zuma made it clear to the National Assembly that he was responsible for hiring ministers, not the Guptas. "Go ask the Guptas, and Jonas, it has nothing to do with me. Where do I come in? Ask the people he said offered him the job," Zuma said referring to allegations by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas who sent political shockwaves after alleging that the Guptas had offered him the Ministry of Finance position.

Despite the backlash, the ANC National Executive Committee said it remains behind its embattled leader. "The ANC continues to confirm its full confidence in our president," party Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told journalists. He said the issue of whether or not Zuma should resign "never arose" at the meeting.

Analysts said it was not a surprise that the party leadership came to Zuma's defense. The ANC executive committee is largely packed with his supporters and they cannot deal with a leadership crisis just months before local government elections.

Analyst Ralph Mathegka said the ANC top leadership chose to support Zuma after assessing the cost of taking action against him and the repercussions. "The party [ANC] is really concerned about maintaining a solid front, not only because of the forthcoming local government elections but also because the opposition has increased pressure on the ANC in parliament."


Ajay und Atul Gupta in an Interview
Brothers Ajay und Atul Gupta moved to South Africa from India in 1993Image: imago/Gallo Images

The Guptas have been accused by several senior officials of wielding undue influence on the Zuma-led government. According to documents, President Zuma's son Duduzane, is director - along with Gupta family members - of six Gupta-owned companies. Zuma's third wife has reportedly worked for them as well. The family is also said to have close ties with a number of ANC leaders.

The Indian-born businessmen who moved to South Africa in the early 1990s have denied all allegations against them and say they have become the victims of a plot to remove Zuma from power.

Some ANC party stalwarts have called on the 73-year-old veteran politician to quit before his term which ends in 2019. Among those who expressed concern were the foundations of ANC founding father Oliver Tambo and that of Mandela and Mandela's former prison mate Ahmed Kathrada.

"We believe we have reached a watershed moment," the foundations said in a letter to the ANC top leadership before the NEC meeting. The letter urged the ruling party to take urgent corrective actions in the best interest of South Africa and its peoples adding that "we are deeply concerned about the current course on which our country is headed."