A South African billionaire, Johann Rupert, is at the centre of a rip-roaring battle in the ANC at the end of a week in which the row over “state capture” refused to quieten down.
In a lengthy briefing at last week’s tense ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting, President Jacob Zuma said a Rupert family member had flown from London to meet an ANC official to express market unhappiness with the appointment of Des van Rooyen – part of an argument that white capital is also engaged in alleged state capture.
On Friday night, Zuma’s son Edward announced that he was going to officially open a case against Johann Rupert at the Nkandla satellite police station.
SA Police Service spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane confirmed that Edward had opened a case of corruption at the Nxamalala Police Station.
Zuma junior could not be reached for comment on Saturday to expand on the charge.
President Zuma also blamed former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad for bringing the Gupta family into the ANC fold; he told the meeting that his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, had given the family their first hold on state positions.
Zuma revealed that he had appointed Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas against the wishes of the Eastern Cape, Jonas’ home province.
On Tuesday, The Sowetan reported that the official the president had referred to was Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – but by yesterday morning, he had issued an angry denial.
Ramaphosa denied that he had met Rupert to reverse the appointment of Van Rooyen. He said the reports were “wholly incorrect, mischievous and misleading”.
The statement read: “Deputy President Ramaphosa categorically denies ever having such a meeting with Johann Rupert, Trevor Manuel and Maria Ramos, or any other businesspersons to discuss Cabinet appointments.
“The only time Ramaphosa engaged himself with the matter of the finance ministry was during the meeting of the top six ANC officials with President Jacob Zuma on the Sunday leading to the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as the finance minister.”
Manuel said he was not part of any meetings on the issue and had first opined on the axing and other developments in a letter to City Press.
Rupert told The Sowetan he had not seen Ramaphosa in years but City Press could not confirm this.
Van Rooyen, a former mayor and ANC MP, was appointed finance minister in December after Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene.
He lasted just four days in office as the markets tanked on news of his appointment and the rand plummeted in value against global currencies.
The accusation against Ramaphosa appears to be aimed at buttressing the growing presidential defence that it is not only the Guptas, but also white capital, that influences state appointments and policy.
Earlier in the week, Edward Zuma criticised columnist Max du Preez, saying it was not true that the Zuma family and clan were rich because of the Guptas.
Edward wrote that “it would be stupid and selective of him [Du Preez] to single out the Zuma family when there are known billionaires who are also politicians that also have relationships with certain families that practically own South Africa”.
ANC sources say that after giving his usual and general closing remarks to the NEC meeting late on Sunday afternoon, Zuma addressed the “Gupta matter”.
In a lengthy narrative, the president explained how the Guptas were introduced to him by Pahad during Mbeki’s presidency.
The president reportedly pointed out to the party’s high command that, though he was accused of handing the state over to the Guptas, he had never appointed the Guptas anywhere in the state.
Mbeki, on the other hand, had appointed Ajay Gupta to his economic advisory panel in the presidency.
Zuma explained to the NEC the process he had followed in appointing Des van Rooyen as finance minister in December.
He said that he had informed the rest of the ANC’s top six, as well as labour federation Cosatu and SA Communist Party leaders.
He reportedly said that only ANC secretarygeneral Gwede Mantashe had asked questions about Van Rooyen’s capacity, and nobody else had objected.
He said he had chosen Van Rooyen because he had served on Parliament’s finance committee, as Nene had done.
The ANC has denied that Zuma dared the ANC’s national executive to recall him, but City Press has learnt from NEC members that Zuma said that if the party wanted to recall him, it could go ahead.
He told the NEC members that, if they did, he would resign the next day and go back to his branch in Nkandla to work as an ordinary member of the party.