South Africa’s main opposition party called on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to clarify whether his deputy was offered the ministerial post in a meeting attended by the Gupta family and the son of President Jacob Zuma.
The Guptas, who are business partners of Duduzane Zuma, met with Mcebisi Jonas on Nov. 27 to offer him the finance minister role, held at the time by Nhlanhla Nene, the Sunday Times reported, citing unidentified officials working for the National Treasury department and the ruling African National Congress party.
After refusing the offer, Jonas was again presented the post a week later in a phone call from the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, the Johannesburg-based newspaper said. The Financial Times first reported about an offer to Jonas on March 8.
Phumza Macanda, a spokeswoman for the Treasury, declined to comment. Harold Maloka, a spokesman for Zuma, didn’t respond to phone and text messages seeking comment. The Gupta family, whose businesses include media, engineering and uranium and coal mining, said there was no meeting.
“We do not know whether the story is true, but the fact that the deputy minister has refused to confirm or deny the reports creates the impression that the reports are true,” the Democratic Alliance said in an e-mailed statement. Gordhan “must now step in and clean up the mess created by the deputy minister’s refusal to comment,” it said.
The questions over whether the Guptas were involved in attempts to appoint a finance minister come after Zuma fired Nene in December and replaced him with little-known lawmaker David van Rooyen, causing the rand and bonds to plunge. The market backlash and lobbying by business leaders and politicians forced Zuma to backtrack four days later, leading him to reappoint Gordhan to a position he had held from 2009 to 2014.
Jonas was offered the finance minister post on condition that he would support an expensive nuclear arms deal and fire key officials at the treasury, the Sunday Times reported.
The DA on March 8 called for the Gupta family to appear in parliament to discuss their relationship with Zuma. At least one of the three brothers is a joint director or shareholder in at least a dozen companies with Duduzane Zuma.
“There have been an extraordinary number of allegations around the Gupta family in recent weeks, several of which have involved the finance ministry, ” the family said Sunday in a statement on the website of Oakbay Investments (Pty) Ltd., a company it controls. “To be clear: there was no meeting at all. Atul Gupta was not even in South Africa on the date of the alleged meeting,” they said, referring to one of the brothers.
The reports on the approach to Jonas were “nothing but gossip masquerading as news,” the ANC said on its Twitter feed. “All those implicated” have rejected the allegations, it said.