South African President Jacob Zuma has denied allegations that a prominent business family influenced his decisions in choosing cabinet ministers.
“I am in charge of the government, I appoint in terms of the Constitution,” Zuma said in parliament as he came in for sharp criticism from opposition MPs.
“There is no minister who is here who was ever appointed by the Guptas or by anybody else,” he said, referring to a family that owns businesses ranging from tech firms to media outlets and energy and mining businesses.
The deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, issued a statement on Wednesday alleging that the politically connected family had directly offered him the finance minister’s job in December – a month in which Zuma appointed three finance ministers in just five days.
Those five days rattled markets, leading to a fall in the value of the country’s rand currency.
During a combative exchange in parliament, Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said to Zuma: “Is the president willing to take accountability for the decision and resign in front of the people of South Africa?”
Opposition MPs said Zuma’s decision to fire the finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, replace him with a relatively unknown parliamentarian, and then replace him with a more experienced former finance minister weakened the economy and currency.
Zuma denied that, saying the rand was already in decline before he shuffled the ministers.
The president, who has previously said his ties with the Gupta family are above board, has been plagued by scandals in recent years. His son, Duduzane, is a director along with Gupta family members of six companies, according to documents seen by the Reuters news agency.
Two years ago, Zuma was criticised when a Gupta family wedding party was allowed to use a military base in Pretoria.
Members of the Democratic Alliance and other critics say the alleged influence of the Gupta family over Zuma is a threat to the country’s democracy.
Maimane said Deputy Finance Minister Jonas’s statement provided evidence after numerous allegations of “state favours, murky business relationships and clear-cut nepotism” between the president and the family.
‘Mockery of democracy’
Jonas said he had rejected the offer because “it makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy”.
The Guptas denied the claim, dismissing it as infighting between rival factions of the ruling African National Congress party.
“Any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false,” the family said in a statement on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, another ruling party member alleged that the Guptas offered her the post of minister of public enterprises, the department that handles South Africa’s national electricity supplier and national airline carrier.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the party had not discussed removing Zuma.
“He’s not untouchable, he’s the president,” Gwede Mantashe told Reuters.