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South African minister claims wealthy family offered him Cabinet post

Published 16/03/2016

Jacob Zuma is due to answer questions from members of parliament on Thursday
Jacob Zuma is due to answer questions from members of parliament on Thursday

A wealthy family close to President Jacob Zuma allegedly offered a senior South African government official a Cabinet position - a claim that added to mounting corruption allegations against the president.

Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas claimed that members of the Gupta family, which has extensive business interests in South Africa, asked him to replace Nhlanhla Nene, who was sacked in December in a move that rattled markets and raised questions about Mr Zuma's leadership.

Mr Jonas said he rejected the offer from the Guptas.

"The basis of my rejection of their offer is that it makes a mockery of our hard earned democracy, the trust of our people and no one apart from the president of the republic appoints ministers," he said in a statement.

Mr Zuma is scheduled to answer questions from members of parliament on Thursday, where opposition parties say they will seek clarity on the political influence of the Gupta family.

The Guptas have come under scrutiny from the South African media and opposition parties who say the family enjoys an unethical relationship with Mr Zuma and the ruling African National Congress. The president's son, Duduzane Zuma, has become a successful businessman while working for Oakbay Investments, the family's company.

The family strongly denied the deputy minister's claim, dismissing it as infighting between rival factions of the ruling party.

"Any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false," the family said in a statement, challenging Mr Jonas to repeat his statement under oath in court.

Mr Jonas' revelation followed a front page report by the Sunday Times, a South African newspaper, alleging that two brothers, Atul and Ajay Gupta, along with Mr Zuma's son, offered Mr Jonas the post of finance minister before Nene was fired.

A growing concern around "state capture" should not be ignored, the deputy finance minister said.

State capture, "is a grand form of corruption where individuals try to steer the policy of a country to their own advantage," said Judith February, a South African political analyst.

Mr Zuma removed Nene, replacing him with a relatively unknown legislator, but the public outcry and negative financial reaction brought Mr Zuma to quickly replace him with Pravin Gordhan, who had held the post from 2009 to 2014.

Mr Gordhan's return to the finance ministry brought some economic reprieve, but South Africa's currency has again weakened amid a public dispute between Mr Gordhan and police investigators.

A senior member of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, said the party will press criminal charges against the Guptas related to corruption, following the deputy minister's disclosure.

Earlier this week, Vytjie Mentor, a former ruling party parliamentarian, alleged the Guptas had previously offered her the post of minister of public enterprises, the department that handles South Africa's national electricity supplier, railway service and national airline carrier. In a Facebook comment, Ms Mentor said she was offered the post provided that she drop the South African Airways route to India. Mr Zuma's office has denied this.

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