ANC backs Zuma but will investigate Gupta allegation
As more politicians talk of a scandal, the African president’s support is dwindling
South African president Jacob Zuma (right) with French president François Hollande during a summit on health and sanitary security. Photograph: Olivier Anrigo/EPA
Although the African National Congress’s top decision-making body has publicly backed President Jacob Zuma despite another scandal emerging to undermine his administration, recent developments indicate his support base is dwindling.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said, after a national executive committee (NEC) meeting last Sunday, members had expressed their “full confidence” in Zuma, but he confirmed his office would investigate the allegations made against the president’s friends, the Gupta brothers.
Ajay, Atol and Rajesh Gupta have been accused of offering ministerial posts – which is the sole prerogative of the South African president – under certain conditions, and of leaning on government officials to get lucrative contracts.
The scandal broke earlier this month when deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas claimed that, in a November meeting with the Guptas set up by Zuma’s son Duduzane, he was offered the position of finance minister, which he turned down
Jonas’s boss Nhlanhla Nene was surprisingly removed from his post in mid-December and replaced by little-known ANC MP Des van Rooyen.
The move wiped billions of rand off the value of the local stock exchange, the JSE, and forced Zuma into an embarrassing about turn. After three days he replaced van Rooyen with the respected former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
Since Jonas broke ranks other former MPs and members of government have recounted similar stories of the Guptas trying to use their relationship with Zuma to secure business with the state or to curry favours. That Zuma and the Guptas have a close relationship has been known for years, but both parties deny wrongdoing. Indeed the Guptas say the allegations against them are linked to factionalism in the ANC.
Mantashe has maintained that until his investigation is complete no action will be taken, as the party wants to assess the extent and veracity of the allegations before addressing what has been termed the “capture of the state” by the three businessmen from India.
Since Zuma entered his second term in 2009, commentators have maintained his position in the ANC has been all-powerful due to his popularity at grass-roots level and the system of patronage he established. Given that numerous corruption scandals and policy blunders he has been linked to have drawn little open criticism from party members, such analysis appeared on the money.
However, within days of Mantashe making his statement it became clear that many influential ANC members had reached a tipping point when it came to their support for Zuma.
In a letter to the NEC, the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which represent the ANC’s most famous sons, called on it to take note of the mood of the people and act in their best interest.
“History will judge the ANC leadership harshly if it fails to take the decisions that will restore the trust and confidence of the people of South Africa, ” the letter read.
On Wednesday it was reported a group of “Senior Commanders and Commissars of the former military wing of the ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe” (or MK) had also sent a memorandum to Mantashe with a litany of complaints against Zuma.
“We are of the view, that for the sake of the ANC and the country a dignified exit should be negotiated with Comrade J Zuma,” the memorandum said.
The same day ANC stalwart Denis Goldberg, one of 10 party leaders tried with Mandela in the early 1960s for trying to overthrow the apartheid regime, also publicly called on Zuma to step down.
Despite this, Zuma retains a lot of support within the ANC. For instance, the head of the ANC’s military veterans’ league, Kebby Maphatsoe, was quick to accuse the collective of outspoken former MK commanders of trying to inspire mutiny within the ANC.
He maintained their position in relation to Zuma was at odds with the military veteran league’s, which has always backed the president.
But at the same time, such a public outcry by senior ANC members is unprecedented, and suggests the solid ground of political support that Zuma has enjoyed is now shifting beneath his feet.
If analysis of all the evidence points to South Africa’s president being complicit in high-level corruption involving the Guptas and their efforts to control the state, then Zuma may no longer be untouchable after all.