S. African President faces showdown over graft

Mr Zuma facing Parliament on Thursday. The ANC has steadily lost popular support.
Mr Zuma facing Parliament on Thursday. The ANC has steadily lost popular support. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Party panel to decide fate of leader accused of picking ministers favoured by wealthy family friends

JOHANNESBURG • The fate of South African President Jacob Zuma - who is facing new allegations of corruption - hangs in the balance as ruling African National Congress (ANC) party leaders prepare for a showdown this weekend to decide if it's time to replace him.

The key issue at the three-day meeting of the National Executive Committee, which began yesterday in the capital Pretoria, is the role of the Guptas, a wealthy Indian family who are friends with Mr Zuma and are in business with one of his sons.

Mr Zuma has denied that the close links had influenced his appointment of ministers.

"There is a type of a rebellion within the ANC," said politics professor Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa.

In a parliamentary session on Thursday, Mr Zuma rejected statements made in recent days by current and former government officials that they had been offered ministerial positions by the Guptas.

"I'm in charge of the government," Mr Zuma said. "I appoint in terms of the Constitution."

Opposition leaders urged Mr Zuma to resign. "You and your family are getting richer while South Africans are getting poorer," said Mr Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition party, Democratic Alliance.

Under Mr Zuma, who has been entangled in a series of personal scandals since taking office in 2009, the ANC has steadily lost popular support and faces the risk of losing in critical local elections this year.

Since Mr Zuma's mishandling of a crucial appointment in December dealt a blow to the struggling economy, party officials have expressed growing concerns about corruption.

On Thursday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said corruption could turn South Africa into a "mafia state".

Some officials blamed the Guptas. Mr Zuma's son Duduzane is a business partner of the Guptas - three brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, who came to South Africa from India in the early 1990s. Starting with a computer company called Sahara, they have built an empire in mining, transportation, technology and media.

A day earlier, Mr Mcebisi Jonas, the deputy finance minister, said in a statement that in a meeting with the Guptas in December, they had offered him the job of finance minister. Mr Jonas said he immediately rejected the offer.

In December, a few days after the alleged offer to Mr Jonas, Mr Zuma removed a widely respected finance minister, Mr Nhlanhla Nene, and replaced him with a little- known legislator, a decision that shocked the financial markets and sent the rand plummeting.

He was then forced to reappoint a well-regarded former finance minister, Mr Pravin Gordhan, who had served from 2009 to 2014.

A day before Mr Jonas' statement, former ANC lawmaker Vytjie Mentor wrote on Facebook that the Guptas had offered her the position of minister of public enterprises in 2010.

BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'S. African President faces showdown over graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe