The admission by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas that the Gupta family offered him the ministry’s top job could lead to further revelations from other ANC members.
It will also embolden the party’s senior officials to speak out against the family’s influence at the ANC’s national executive committee meeting this weekend.
Last night, ANC veteran and former MP Ben Turok said: ”The political game has entered a deep and dangerous phase. ANC veterans, members of its integrity committee and MPs must stand up and say that Jacob Zuma must resign because there is no way the Guptas could have done this without Zuma’s approval.”
The president, who enjoys a close friendship with the Guptas, who are in business with his son, Duduzane, insists his relationship with the family is above board.
In response to Jonas’s confirmation yesterday that the Guptas had offered him the finance minister’s job in November, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said: “It is a political matter. It is affecting the organisation negatively. The fact that people are becoming bold [to speak out] I am sure more and more people will come out and speak about this.”
Speaking days after returning from a trip abroad and less than 24 hours after claims by former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor that the Guptas had offered her the public enterprises ministry in 2010, Jonas broke his silence on the offer by Ajay and Atul Gupta at a Johannesburg hotel in the presence of Duduzane.
“Members of the Gupta family offered me the position of minister of finance to replace then-minister Nene. I rejected this out of hand. 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,” said Jonas.
His admission vindicates a Sunday Times report that detailed how the Guptas offered him the job, before Zuma fired Nene – a decision that triggered panic on the financial markets.
Insiders said the offer to Jonas was made on condition that he pushed forward the implementation of the nuclear procurement programme and that he remove senior officials within the national Treasury, including director-general Fuzile Lungisa.
“I have hesitated to speak out publicly on this matter until now, but I feel it is no longer possible to remain quiet,” Jonas said.
”Of primary concern to me is that this issue has a real danger of diverting attention away from the real and urgent challenges we face as a country. The economic climate presents many risks for our country, which requires responsible leadership to avoid a full-blown crisis.”
The rand, which dropped sharply on Tuesday on news of the ongoing standoff between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks, weakened further yesterday after Jonas’s statement. The currency was trading at R16.1645 to the dollar at 5.43pm.
Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko said he was “pleased that deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas has confirmed that, as the newspaper had reported, the Gupta family offered him the position of finance minister to replace former minister Nhlanhla Nene. As we have said before, we really had no reasons to mistrust our sources when we reported on this matter on Sunday”.
Last night, Mentor saluted Jonas on Facebook for speaking out, saying: “Viva Cde Mcebisi Jonas! The truth shall set us free.”
However, economists are concerned about the timing of Jonas’s statement, because delegates from Moody’s Investor Services are in South Africa to review the country’s sovereign credit rating.
Colen Garrow, an economist at Lefika Securities, said: “It comes at a very awkward time obviously because Moody’s is in town. My sense of it is they’ve probably made their mind up already.
”Last Monday Moody’s release was that they were putting South Africa on review to be downgraded. So it seems to be a done deal but it’s not done until the ink is down on paper, so to speak. Developments in the finance ministry haven’t helped.”
As opposition politicians vented their fury at Zuma, accusing him of delegating his authority to the Guptas, the DA said it would open criminal charges against the family.
In a statement issued through Oakbay Investments, the Guptas remained defiant, claiming there was never any meeting with Jonas. “These latest allegations are just more political point-scoring between rival factions within the ANC. To be clear: any suggestion that the Gupta family or any of our representatives or associates have offered anyone a job in government is totally false.
“We challenge Deputy Minister Jonas to provide a full account of the supposed meeting that took place, under oath, in a court of law. He is attempting to cover up and divert attention away from his own relationships and practices. We are confident questions about his own ethical standards will be exposed. We will not provide any further running commentary on what is now just a politically motivated campaign against us.”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, however, said South Africans should realise that the country was being run from the Gupta home in Saxonwold and that the party would today ask Zuma whether the Guptas had taken over control of the country.
Said SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo: “This strengthens the SACP’s call for a full judicial commission into corporate state capture. We must emphasise we are congratulating him for coming out without fear or favour … The behaviour of these individuals as confirmed by the deputy minister suggests that they are usurping the powers of ANC members.”
Desne Masie of the Wits School of Governance said: “This could be the beginning of the end for Zuma.”