The supreme decision-making organ of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party on Sunday rallied behind beleaguered President Jacob Zuma amid allegations that a wealthy Indian family has influenced ministerial appointments.
“The ANC continues to confirm its full confidence in our president,” party secretary general Gwede Mantashe told journalists, adding that the issue of whether or not Zuma should stand down “never arose” at the body’s three-day meeting.
Issues discussed at the meeting included claims by senior party and government officials that the Gupta family was interfering with the running of the government.
The ANC is the party of the late president Nelson Mandela who led the struggle to end apartheid.
The Gupta family’s power has allegedly extended to appointing ministers under Zuma, whose presidency has been engulfed in graft scandals and growing disillusionment over the country’s post-apartheid prospects.
The latest graft claims to hit the president erupted last week after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said he was offered the top job in the treasury by the Guptas.
Mantashe said the party held “frank and robust” discussions on the subject of the Guptas and that “appropriate action” would be taken.
He said the supposed interference by the Guptas had “the potential to undermine and erode the credibility and confidence of our people in the leadership”.
“We reject the notion of any business or family group seeking such influence over the ANC with the contempt it deserves, while also recognising the need to act to protect the integrity of our government and our organisation.”
– ‘Worse by the day’ –
Some ANC party stalwarts have called for the veteran political survivor to retire before his term ends in 2019.
The latest to join the chorus of disillusionment over Zuma’s style of governing were the foundations of ANC founding father Oliver Tambo and that of Mandela and Mandela’s former prison mate Ahmed Kathrada.
“We believe we have reached a watershed moment,” the foundations said in a letter urging the ANC top leadership “to make urgent choices, and to take urgent corrective actions in the best interest of South Africa and its peoples.”
“We are deeply concerned about the current course on which our country is headed.”
“In the spirit of our founders, we cannot passively watch these deeply concerning developments unfold and get worse by the day.”
Analysts said it was not a surprise that the party leadership came to Zuma’s defence because the ANC executive committee is largely packed with his supporters and they cannot deal with a leadership crisis just months before local government elections.
“The defence of Jacob Zuma was rather lacklustre, it wasn’t really an endorsement,” said independent analyst Daniel Silke.
“The ANC was trying to patch over any disagreements or divisions in the short term to allow the ANC to at least embark on the local government election campaign without the extreme negativity of a potential showdown over the position of the president,” said Silke.
Once known as the Teflon president for surviving a string of scandals while in office, 73-year-old Zuma has managed to keep his political career alive.
Zuma has previously defended his friendship with the Gupta brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, who have built up a string of companies with interests in computers, mining, media and engineering since moving to South Africa in the 1990s.
They have long been accused of wielding undue influence over Zuma, whose son Duduzane is a partner in some of their businesses. Zuma’s third wife also used to work for them.