Has Gupta family sealed Jacob Zuma's fate?

President Jacob ZumaImage source, AFP
Image caption,
President Jacob Zuma's presidency has been plagued by controversy

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma is walking further into a long, dark tunnel as he clings to his presidency.

South Africans are angry and embarrassed by accusations that the president's friends are effectively running the country from their posh suburban mansion by appointing ministers.

The statement by deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas that he was offered a cabinet ministerial job by a member of the controversial Gupta family is more bad news for President Zuma.

While he is known to be one of the greatest political survivors, from a distance it looks like this latest scandal could finally cost him the presidency.

Mr Zuma denies that he has outsourced his constitutional duties of appointing cabinet ministers to his friends.

He told a raucous parliament: "I am in charge of the government, I appoint in terms of the constitution."

"There is no minister who is here who was ever appointed by the Guptas or by anybody else."

Media caption,
There were angry exchanges in parliament between main opposition leader Mmusi Maimane and Mr Zuma

The governing African National Congress (ANC), which until very recently vehemently defended its president, is beginning to change its tune.

The party's Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said: "The threat of corporate capture is a real threat. When you corrupt individual politicians to actually act as your proxies in the ANC to become agents of business interests then that's corporate capture."

He described the Gupta family's rebuttal, saying the issue is not their undue influence but internal party political factions jostling for positions, as arrogance gone too far.

Speaking to local TV channel ENCA he said: "It's arrogance to the superlative degree."

The Gupta family, who arrived from India in 1993, have responded to the latest allegations with a double-page advert entitled "Gupta Family, The Inconvenient Truth" in The New Age newspaper, which the family owns.

Image source, New age

The family, through their holding company Oakbay Investments said it was releasing details of a meeting it held with ANC officials last month.

Several accusations were addressed line by line but the advert did not mention the reports of ministerial job offers, which the family has previously denied.

"Like any other South African businesses, we interact with the government," the family said.

"In fact, friendship with the previous president was as strong."

Several ANC officials have joined in the attack on the Guptas.

ANC MP Vytjie Mentor claimed on Facebook that she too was offered a cabinet job by the Gupta family, but she said she too refused.

Soon after Mr Jonas spoke about the controversial meeting at the Gupta home called by Duduzane Zuma, the president's son, senior MPs took to social media to support him.

'Political rot'

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom stated on his Twitter account: "Mcebisi Jonas is a person of great integrity and there no reason to doubt his version of events."

He was followed the former ANC's spokesman MP Jackson Mthembu who said: "I fully agree that comrade Jonas is a person of integrity whose commitment to our democracy is unquestionable."

The Zumas and the Guptas - the 'Zuptas'

Image source, Gallo Images
  • Bongi Ngema-Zuma, one of the president's wives, used to work for the Gupta-controlled JIC Mining Services as a communications officer.
  • Duduzile Zuma, his daughter, was a director at Sahara Computers.
  • Duduzane Zuma, a son (above), is a director in some Gupta-owned companies.

The expression of disgust gained momentum when ANC heavyweight and former cabinet minister Barbara Hogan said that the party needed to clear the "rot."

Ms Hogan, who was once the minister of public enterprise responsible for state companies such as South African Airways, electricity giant Eskom and many others did not mince her words: "This is a defining moment. This cannot be swept under the carpet."

But the question on everybody's mind is whether these condemnations will gain enough critical mass within the troubled ANC for it to recall President Zuma, as it did with his predecessor Thabo Mbeki.

In the past many voices within the ANC were too scared to raise their heads in case they got chopped off.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
South Africans have held protests recently calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down

Many people said anonymously that they were disappointed about what was going on in the party of Nelson Mandela.

It does feels like the winds of change are blowing through the party structures.

However, the critical voices may not be enough for the ANC to take the decision to sack its leader.

But that may change.

Lame duck or in charge?

There is a lot of behind the scenes manoeuvring within Africa's oldest liberation movement.

There are those who are hoping that the current deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa can move into the driving seat immediately.

Others wish that the African Union chairperson and former wife of President Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, can take over the reins of power from her seemingly stumbling ex-husband.

But when you look closely, instead of a speedy recovery, the paralysis that has beset the ANC will probably intensify. It will just be business as usual.

Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra) told me that the state had not been captured.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Zuma has survived several previous scandals

"It is the ANC that is captured and therefore those who are supposed to rein in the 73-year-old president and hold him to account will not act against their own interests. Even in this latest fiasco."

He said: "It's just going to blow over. Then the ANC will come out blaming the media and corporate capture by special interests."

So as President Zuma emerges from yet another supposedly cataclysmic political drama, he looks set to remain party president until his term expires in December 2017.

Unless his comrades decide to pull the rug from under his feet after this year's crucial local government election.

It seems there will be no capture of the president's seat, for now at least.

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