A senior South African politician said Wednesday he was offered the job of finance minister by an Indian family accused of wielding influence over President Jacob Zuma, in the latest scandal to rock the government.
Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said the offer was made by the Guptas, a wealthy family that have built up an array of companies in South Africa since moving to the country in the 1990s.
The alleged job offer occurred before Zuma sacked respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December — a shock move that triggered a collapse in the rand and massive withdrawal of foreign investment.
“Members of the Gupta family offered me the position of Minister of Finance to replace then-minister Nene. I rejected this out of hand,” Jonas said in a statement.
“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.”
The statement added further fuel to allegations that the Guptas had “captured” some branches of the South African government for their own benefit.
“The narrative that has grown around the issue of ‘state capture’ should be of concern to all responsible and caring South Africans,” Jonas added.
Nene was sacked as finance minister in favour of little-known David van Rooyen, who was widely seen as a weak placeman for corrupt Zuma loyalists.
The appointment of van Rooyen caused such a negative reaction from investors, banks and even in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party that Zuma sacked him after just four days.
Pravin Gordhan, who served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014, was re-appointed to try to restore confidence in the economy that has been battered by falling growth, rising inflation and high unemployment.
The Guptas have built a string of South African companies controlled by brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh with interests in computers, mining, media and engineering.
– Pressure on Zuma –
They issued a rapid statement on Wednesday, saying Jonas’s claims were “just more political point scoring between rival factions within the ANC”.
“Any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false,” it added.
The Guptas’ supporters say they are industrious immigrant family that made it big in their adopted country, providing much-needed investment and jobs.
But their apparent influence over government has become the focus of anger against Zuma’s presidency.
Ahead of municipal elections later in the year, the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party has targeted their supposed sway over the ANC.
Another ANC member, Vytjie Mentor, also alleged this week that she was offered a cabinet post by the Guptas — an accusation that Zuma denied.
The Guptas are also alleged to have determined the appointment of other government figures, including minister of mines Mosebenzi Zwane.
“This is disturbing, especially at a time when the economy is facing such difficult times,” Shadrack Gutto, of the Institute of African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, told AFP.
“This calls for the ANC to consider asking president Zuma to voluntarily step down, but is the ANC bold enough to do that?”
Public and media outrage against the Guptas soared in 2013, when a large private jet carrying foreign guests to a Gupta wedding was granted permission to land at Waterkloof Air Force base, outside Pretoria.
The airport is a military facility that is normally used to receive heads of state.
Zuma has previously defended his friendship with the Guptas.
His son Duduzane is a director of the Gupta’s Sahara Computers and is a partner in some of their other businesses, while Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema was also a Gupta employee.