March 21, 2019

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma faces impeachment vote

The president has been battling allegations of corruption since before he took office

Several major firms have cut ties with a family close to South African president Jacob Zuma, saying the relationship is too risky, shortly before a motion to impeach him goes before parliament.

The South African branch of global accounting giant KPMG, Barclays Africa and investment bank Sasfin have all announced they will no longer do business with one of the Gupta family firms, Reuters reported.

The controversial family of wealthy industrialists have been accused of exploiting their relationship with Zuma to choose pliable candidates for top cabinet and business jobs in a scandal that came to light after the country’s respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, was abruptly sacked in December.

The country’s deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, later said in a public statement that members of the Gupta family had offered him the ministerial post, and at least one other politician said they had offered her a cabinet job.

The family deny the allegations and say they have been made scapegoats for the country’s economic woes and used as pawns in internal party politics.

Zuma’s troubles deepened when the country’s top court ruled last week that he had violated the constitution by ignoring a state order to repay some of the government funds used in a lavish £11m upgrade to his private residence, including a swimming pool and amphitheatre.

The 73-year old president on Friday gave a televised address to the nation in which he apologised and said he had never knowingly or deliberately set out to violate the constitution. But on Monday the leader of the opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA), tabled a motion to impeach Zuma.

The president is expected to ride out the debate because his party, the African National Congress, holds a firm majority in parliament, and wants to prevent the opposition from appearing to take the initiative against their embattled leader.

But his long-term position looks increasingly shaky after party giants, including an anti-apartheid activist tried and jailed alongside Nelson Mandela, called for him to step down. Ahmed Kathrada made the call in a letter to Zuma after the court ruling.

Zuma has fended off accusations of corruption, influence peddling and rape since before he took office in 2009, but the current swirl of scandals over both his home renovations and ties to the Guptas is arguably the biggest challenge he has faced.

In an email to KPMG staff, local chief executive Trevor Hoole said he had decided to stop auditing Gupta mining firm Oakbay Resources and Energy after consulting regulators, clients and KPMG’s internal risk departments.

“I can assure you that this decision was not taken lightly but in our view the association risk is too great for us to continue,” Hoole said in the email, seen by Reuters. “There will clearly be financial and potentially other consequences to this, but we view them as justifiable.” Oakbay confirmed the end of the 15-year relationship.

Barclays Africa, which runs South Africa’s biggest retail bank, Absa, also confirmed it no longer had a relationship with Oakbay, which is valued at 16bn rand (£752m) on the Johannesburg stockmarket. In an annual report from last August Oakbay listed Absa as its bank, Reuters reported.

A spokeswoman for Sasfin told Reuters on Monday the bank’s relationship with Oakbay would formally end on 1 June.

The Gupta family emigrated from India in 1993, seeking business opportunities in post-apartheid South Africa, and now presides over a wide range of corporate interests from mining to IT and media.

The family’s close ties to Zuma, whose son sits on the board of at least six Gupta-owned companies, and extravagant lifestyle has drawn criticism before, perhaps most memorably when it used an airforce base to fly in guests for a private wedding.

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