S.A's Public Protector says report blocked by Zuma is final

PUBLISHED: Thu, 27 Oct 2016 10:07:52 GMT

South Africa’s anti-graft watchdog has told President Jacob Zuma that its report into possible undue political influence of his friends is final, dimming his hopes of adding to its findings as he battles pressure from within his own ANC party to resign.

Zuma filed an affidavit in court on Tuesday asking whether the report was final and if he would be able to question witnesses himself and respond to accusations he allowed an Indian-born business family to interfere in state affairs.

The Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, are subject of a report on allegations that they swayed appointments of ministers and use political connections to win tenders.

Zuma, facing calls to quit from opposition parties and even within the ruling African National Congress due to his links with the Gupta family, denies any impropriety, as do the three businessmen.

The Public Protector said the report had already been completed by Thuli Madonsela, whose seven-year term as head of the constitutionally-mandated watchdog ended this month. She has been succeeded by Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

“The Public Protector has the president’s latest affidavit and has through the attorneys confirmed that the report was finalised and signed by Adv. Madonsela on 14 October 2016,” Mkhwebane’s spokeswoman told Reuters.

Zuma had successfully delayed the report’s planned Oct. 14 release by asking a court to first hear arguments that he had not had the chance to review any evidence that implicated him. The hearing is due on Nov. 1.

Madonsela, who was a thorn in Zuma’s side, had previously said the report was final and that the president had been given an opportunity to respond to allegations, including during a four-hour interview earlier this month.

The dispute over the report comes at a time when Zuma’s government is reeling after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was ordered to appear in court on Nov. 2 to hear fraud charges against him. Gordhan has dismissed the charges as “frivolous”.

The opposition and analysts say Gordhan’s woes are a witch-hunt by a faction allied to the president, recalling that the finance minister has vowed to fight patronage in government.

Zuma has denied there is any plot to oust Gordhan.

The Business Day newspaper on Wednesday cited an internal party report in which some branches of the ANC are calling for Zuma and the main party’s leadership to step down after a poor showing at local elections in August.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa declined to be drawn on the report, saying “we don’t comment on internal discussions.”

(Writing by Joe Brock and James Macharia; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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