South Africa

South Africa

Zupta chamber of secrets blown open: Tide turns in ANC

President Jacob Zuma had countless opportunities to disown and distance himself from the actions of the Gupta family as they commandeered control of the South African state. He did not. He surrendered his constitutional powers to his marauding friends and for this he must face the consequences – legally and politically. This is the approach of a significant and growing lobby in the ANC as the party finally confronts the staggering crisis the Zuma-Gupta nexus has plunged the country into. The best thing opposition parties can do now is to sit this round out. The ANC is ripe for a cull, although it might not be immediate. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The conspiracy of silence in the ANC has been broken. With official confirmation from Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was indeed offered the position of finance minister by the Gupta family, the dam walls have broken. New allegations of audacious moves by the Guptas are emerging, including trying to woo or give instructions to senior government leaders. It is being alleged that the Guptas had planned to have Jonas fired and replaced with a new ANC Member of Parliament. The go-between role of the president’s son, Duduzane Zuma, in the Guptas’ political manoeuvres is also being exposed.

Intense discussions were underway on Wednesday night as national and provincial leaders consulted on the way forward for the ANC and how to approach this weekend’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting.

In a sign of mounting anger against President Jacob Zuma and his refusal to fully explain his relationship with the Gupta family, ANC sources said the president should not be allowed to participate in the discussion on the Gupta family at the NEC. Zuma is due to present a political report to the NEC at the start of the meeting giving his assessment of the state of country and the ANC. It is expected that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe will present a report to the NEC on a meeting between the top six officials and the Guptas. The meeting took place following mounting allegations against the family and their improper involvement in the affairs of the state for their financial gain.

Some ANC leaders believe that Zuma should be asked to recuse himself from this discussion. This will be an unprecedented move if it does happen. Sources say the ANC needs to discuss options to deal with the president’s conduct and the breach of his constitutional duties as state president. This includes subjecting the president to disciplinary action in the ANC and whether he should face an impeachment hearing in Parliament.

Another school of thought is for the ANC to have a special NEC meeting once the Constitutional Court delivers its ruling on the Nkandla case, so that the organisation can conduct a full assessment of the conduct of its “deployee” in the presidency. The option of recalling the president immediately is considered to be “premature” until the Constitutional Court rules on his failure to pay back the money for the Nkandla upgrades and last minute capitulation before the court.

While previous attempts to raise concerns about Nkandla and other scandals have always been shut down by Zuma’s backers in the NEC, momentum has been building in the ANC and the alliance over the role of the Gupta family in affairs of the state and parastatals. The Gupta family has effectively usurped the function of the ANC deployment committee, making a mockery of the ANC’s own cadre deployment strategy.

Jonas’s revelation opens the Guptas to be charged for their intention to corrupt. There is as yet no evidence that Zuma actively participated in the Guptas’ meetings with ANC and state officials. Depending on what approach the ANC adopts to deal with the matter, there might be legal consequences for Zuma.

The complication for the ANC is that the Hawks Crimes Against the State unit, which has been hounding Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on the “rogue spy unit” allegations at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), and the National Prosecuting Authority would be responsible for investigating and deciding whether to prosecute the Guptas and Zuma junior and senior. Both organisations are heavily compromised and unlikely to pursue the matter.

Information is coming to light about how Duduzane Zuma acts as the intermediary between his father and the Gupta brothers, and is also the go-between to set up meetings with senior leaders in the ANC and government. It is understood that Duduzane Zuma set up the meeting between the Guptas and Jonas. Zuma recently told a provincial alliance summit in East London that the Guptas had come to the rescue of his “desperate son” who had previously struggled to get a job. The Herald reported that Zuma was confronted at the meeting about how the Gupta allegations were compromising the image of the ANC.

Questions about Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas and the impact of his scandal-prone presidency on the ANC are now emerging from the organisation’s structures across the country. National leaders are now worried about the upsurge of negative sentiment exploding into the open during an election year if the NEC does not tackle these issues.

While Zuma had unfettered power in the ANC previously, the ground moved when Nene was fired in December, plunging the country into an economic crisis, without an explanation to the ANC. The ANC was also embarrassed when Zuma backpedalled at the Constitutional Court on paying back the money for Nkandla after the ANC caucus had to repeatedly defend him on the matter. Now the mounting evidence of the Guptas’ influence on Zuma’s decisions has released the pressure valve.

The ANC faced increasing pressure this week after media revelations that the Guptas had offered Jonas the position of finance minister before Nene was fired and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor disclosed that the Guptas offered her the public enterprises portfolio in 2010. While the ANC initially denied that the Jonas offer was true and said they had no knowledge of the Mentor offer, a swell of negative sentiment from the public and ANC structures saw the tide turn.

Daily Maverick understands that several ANC leaders spoke to Jonas and advised him to publicly confirm the meeting he had with the Guptas to allow the organisation to deal with the matter.

A new shocking allegation in ANC circles is that in the last few weeks, the Guptas planned to have Jonas removed as deputy finance minister and replace him with a new ANC MP. ANC sources say the Guptas had become uncomfortable with the relationship between Gordhan and his deputy, and while they have been unable to remove key officials in the National Treasury through their deployment of Des van Rooyen to the portfolio in December, Jonas became their next target.

A new MP Sifiso Buthelezi was sworn in on 29 February following the resignation of communications portfolio committee chairperson Joyce Moloi-Moropa a few days earlier. It is alleged that he was to replace Jonas when Zuma next made changes to his Cabinet. There is, of course, no way to ascertain whether this would have in fact happened but it is now unlikely after Jonas’s check-mate move.

The offer to Jonas to take over the finance portfolio from Nene came after a long line of similar, audacious actions by the Guptas to re-arrange the top level of government and position state contracts in their favour. This information has regularly been brought to the attention of ANC leaders, including Mantashe.

Zuma’s power in the ANC made it difficult for the organisation to broach the matter. Attempts to discuss the matter with the president were met with indignation. The complication for the ANC is that Cabinet appointments are presidential prerogative – it is entirely the president’s decision whom he appoints and he is not obliged to consult anybody. The problem though was that he was consulting, or, more to the point, being instructed on whom to appoint.

The ANC has up to now failed to act on overwhelming evidence that began emerging from early in Zuma’s first term that the Gupta family have commandeered control of the country. This included warnings to Zuma by former state security chiefs Gibson Njenje, Moe Shaik and Maqetuka that the Guptas were compromising national security with their cavalier instructions to people employed in the state.

The landing of the Gupta jet at Waterkloof Air Force Base in mid 2013 gave the ANC the opportunity to lash out at the family’s abuse of their relationship with Zuma. Mantashe did so, hoping the incident would break their stranglehold on the president. It did not.

But Zuma maintained his relationship with the Guptas and their behaviour became more and more brazen. Some ANC leaders do not want Zuma to be part of the NEC discussion on the Guptas because they believe he will again deny any knowledge of their actions. Zuma has apparently been dismissive of ANC leaders who have tried to discuss the matter with him quietly. On the issue of Jonas, Zuma is expected to respond that he never intended to appoint him as finance minister and that Van Rooyen was always his first choice and “most qualified” as he has said previously. In this way, he will undermine Jonas’s version of events.

Zuma will still be backed by his supporters in the “premier league”, including the premiers of the Free State Ace Magashule and North West Supra Mahumapelo, who are close to the Guptas, as well as the ANC Youth League. His home province of KwaZulu-Natal, which previously formed the front line of his defence is now deeply divided.  

Zuma’s one saving grace this week might be his question session in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, where he will be asked about his appointment of Van Rooyen as finance minister and the SARS wars. There are concerns that by opposition parties hounding him, the ANC will be forced to defend Zuma when most MPs are unwilling to do so. An opposition onslaught will force the ANC to close ranks around the president. The Economic Freedom Fighters, which usually pummels Zuma during parliamentary question time announced that it would not participate in the session, calling a “futile exercise”.

The Democratic Alliance said it would be laying corruption charges against the Guptas on Thursday, while the Congress of the People said it would lay charges against both the Guptas and Zuma.

But it is Zuma’s own organisation that he has to fear. After years of dodging responsibility and laughing off accountability, his friends the Guptas brought him to the moment of reckoning.

Even for the ultimate Teflon man, political survival might be difficult this time around. DM

Photo: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma reacts during the opening ceremony of the 10th Boao Forum for Asian Annual Conference in Boao town, Hainan province, April 15, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Lee.