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JOHANNESBURG, March 18 (Reuters) – The ex-boss of South Africa’s state power firm on Friday became the latest figure to accuse a business family with ties to President Jacob Zuma of wielding undue influence, as the leadership of the ruling ANC met to discuss its most serious crisis in nearly a decade.
Zola Tsotsi, who resigned a year ago as chairman of Eskom, told the Mail & Guardian newspaper his exit had been orchestrated by the Guptas, who were accused this week of offering cabinet posts to two African National Congress politicians.
“Two months after the appointment, they called me and said they will have me fired because I am not playing the game. I was forced to resign shortly after that,” Tsotsi told the weekly.
Pressure has been mounting on Zuma since Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas said on Wednesday that he had been offered the minister’s post by members of Gupta family last year, shortly before Zuma fired the respected Nhlanhla Nene.
The Guptas, a family of Indian-born businessmen who moved to South Africa in the early 1990s, have denied trying to influence political appointments, saying they are the victims of a plot.
“We play no role in the hiring and firing of anyone outside of our own business … These allegations are nothing more than political gossip and innuendo,” said Nazeem Howa, CEO of Oakbay Investments, part of the Gupta business empire.
The affair has added to investors’ nervousness about South Africa’s stability and governance, contributing to wild swings in the value of the rand.
ANC Leadership Meeting
Officials said it would be top of the agenda at a three-day meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee starting on Friday, ahead of local elections due after May in Johannesburg, Pretoria and elsewhere, where the party faces stiff challenges.
Former ANC treasurer Matthews Phosa said the sense was growing of an unhealthy relationship between the Guptas and Zuma, whose son sits on the boards of at least six Gupta companies.
“This sensation is repeating itself ad nauseam. We are beginning to wonder whether those who say it is not true are themselves being genuine,” Phosa told Talk Radio 702. “I think it is true and I think the Guptas must stop it.”
South Africa’s leading financial newspaper, Business Day, said the ANC had to act to curb the Guptas’ influence but doubted it would go as far as ditching Zuma – as it did with Thabo Mbeki in 2008.
As he answered questions in parliament on Thursday, Zuma did not have the air of a man fearing for his political future. The party’s top decision-making group is stacked with his loyalists and unlikely to turn against him, analysts say.
ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said on Thursday that Zuma’s removal was not on the agenda.
“Forgive the cynicism, but the few voices against the ANC’s colonisation by Zuma and his family benefactors does not yet constitute a groundswell,” Business Day said in an editorial.
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