South Africa’s Zuma defiant as challenges to power mount.
Email leaks, poor economy spur revolt
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA | President Jacob Zuma is facing a growing challenge to his eight-year rule, with calls for impeachment growing as onetime supporters desert him and a stash of leaked emails raises fresh doubts he will be able to serve out the final two years of his current term.
The 75-year-old head of the African National Congress, and only the fourth president since the end of apartheid, finds himself the target of charges that his government is being secretly influenced by businesspeople close to the first family.
Now local newspapers have published dozens of emails relating to members of the Indian-born Gupta family and their business empire, which appears to wind its way through several government departments. The three brothers, Ajay, Atul and Tony, moved to South Africa in 1993.
The emails — and papers presented to parliament by opponents of Mr. Zuma — suggest the Guptas met frequently with Cabinet ministers, heads of governmentowned firms and the president himself, apparently obtaining favorable state supply contracts to the state and even a say in the appointment of ministers.
Even Mr. Zuma’s vice president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has now backed a commission of inquiry into state capture, the Gupta family and allegations of corruption.
Under the constitution, Mr. Zuma must step down before the 2019 elections after serving two terms, and a special meeting of the ruling ANC will be held in December to name his successor as head of the party.
Opinion polls show Mr. Ramaphosa, himself a wealthy businessman and head of the McDonald’s franchise network in South Africa, as the favored candidate. His rival is the president’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who, until January of this year, served as chair of the African Union.
But there is speculation the ANC might remove Mr. Zuma in December, choosing someone else to steer both the party and the country for the rest of his second term.
Outwardly at least, Mr. Zuma exudes confidence that he can withstand the criticism, even laughing dismissively in parliamentary debate Thursday when opposition leaders excoriated his record and his handling of the recessionwracked economy.
“I’m fit and I’m doing [my job] as well,” Mr. Zuma said, ridiculing an opposition demand for a secret ballot on a no-confidence measure in the government. Opposition leaders argue that even some of Mr. Zuma’s ANC members would vote against him in a secret vote, and South Africa’s high court ruled earlier this week that the secret ballot was legitimate if lawmakers themselves agreed to it.
“Why are you trying to get a majority you don’t have by saying ‘secret ballot’?” Mr. Zuma added. “Let us vote the way we have been voting all the time.”
Mmusi Maimane, head of the opposition Democratic Alliance, cited the corruption and economic mismanagement that has left South Africa’s youth unemployment rate at over 27 percent.
“Your presidency has failed South Africa’s youth,” Mr. Maimane said, according to The Associated Press. At local government elections last year, the ANC suffered its worst defeat since coming to power under the late Nelson Mandela in 1994, losing control of both the national capital, Pretoria, and the largest city, Johannesburg.
In March Mr. Zuma replaced the popular finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, with one of his closest allies, Malusi Gigaba, who was formerly minister for home affairs, the department responsible for passports and citizenship. Mr. Gordhan had recently warned against corruption and undue influence within the presidential palace.
One of the leaked emails suggested that while he was home minister, Mr. Gigaba personally approved citizenship for the Gupta brothers after their request had been declined by officials.
This week, members of the opposition, but also a number of lawmakers within the ANC, have demanded that Mr. Gigaba answer questions in Parliament on the matter.
Since taking office in 2009, allegations of wrongdoing have dogged the president, including the expense of almost $20 million in state funds to renovate his family home. Mr. Zuma was forced by the courts to pay back some of the money.
Under pressure from within the ANC, the president has agreed to an independent commission of inquiry into capture or undue control of the state, the Gupta family and government contracts that may have been influenced by cabinet.
Previous attempts to remove Mr. Zuma from office have been tabled by the opposition in parliament, only to be defeated along party lines.
Now, analysts say, the party itself may be losing patience with its leader amid fears that scandal, tales of corruption and an ongoing slide in support could see the ANC voted out of power in two years’ time.
Still, Mr. Zuma sounded Thursday like a man still confident his base was holding.
“The ANC elected me to be president,” he said. “The day the ANC thinks I can’t be president, it will remove me.”