Pretoria, South Africa | AFP |
South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog Wednesday called for prosecutors to investigate alleged criminal activity as it released a report into President Jacob Zuma that fuelled further calls for him to resign.
Zuma, whose presidency has been engulfed by multiple scandals, had fought to block the release of the Public Protector’s report, but his lawyers made a surprise U-turn and dropped their legal appeal.
The report was released hours later, further undermining Zuma after a series of court rulings that have tarnished his time in office and the ruling ANC party that led the fight to end apartheid rule.
The investigation probed accusations that Zuma allowed the Guptas, a wealthy Indian business family, to have undue influence over government, including letting them choose some cabinet ministers.
Among findings in the 355-page report — titled “State of Capture” and illustrated on its front page with a hand strung with puppet wires — was telephone evidence that David van Rooyen visited the Johannesburg neighbourhood where the Guptas live on the day before he was appointed finance minister.
Van Rooyen, a little-known Zuma loyalist, was removed as finance minister only four days after his appointment — but not before it had triggered a market plunge, investor panic and political outrage.
The Public Protector said it “brings to the notice of the National Prosecuting Authority… those matters identified in this report where it appears crimes have been committed”.
It raised several allegations that Zuma had broken the Executive Members’ Ethics Act in his relationship with the Guptas and by failing “to select and appoint ministers lawfully”.
The report was published as thousands of people took to the streets of the administrative capital Pretoria to demand that Zuma resign.
Police fired rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party who tried to storm Zuma’s office in the city.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela concluded her report into the influence of the Gupta family last month, shortly before the expiry of her seven-year term.
“Today is a historic day… Jacob Zuma must be held accountable,” Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, told reporters.
The president, 74, has survived a string of damaging controversies, but faces increasing criticism as the economy stalls and after ANC suffered unprecedented losses in local polls.
Some factions of the ANC, former anti-apartheid activists, trade unions and business leaders have all recently called for Zuma to stand down before his term ends in 2019.
“I spent the whole night here,” Dominic Khulube, 30, an unemployed man from Tembisa, a township outside Johannesburg, told AFP after a vigil by the leftist EFF in Pretoria.
“Zuma must step down and the Guptas must leave the country.”
The marches were originally planned to show support for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who had been due in court Wednesday on separate graft charges that many analysts see as an attempt by Zuma loyalists to oust him.
But prosecutors dropped the charges on Monday.
‘Explosive, damaging information’
“The report contains a lot of explosive, damaging information about the president,” Mcebisi Ndletyana, politics professor at Johannesburg University, told AFP.
“The calls for him to step down after this damaging evidence will grow louder, and there will be a very big fight within the ANC.”
The Gupta family — brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh — built an empire in mining, transportation, technology and media after arriving in South Africa from India in the early 1990s.
In 2014, the Public Protector found Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the refurbishment of his Nkandla rural home.
Zuma fought the case until being berated by the Constitutional Court and ordered to pay back public money spent on upgrades including a chicken coop and a swimming pool.
Zuma is also fighting a court order that could reinstate almost 800 corruption charges against him over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s.