South African finance minister receives death threat

South Africa's deputy finance minister receives death threat shortly before issuing statement accusing wealthy family of influencing President Jacob Zuma

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

South Africa's Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas (R) arrives with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for Gordhan's 2016 Budget address in Cape Town in this February 24, 2016

South Africa’s deputy finance minister received a death threat shortly before accusing a famous wealthy family of having influenced the government of President Jacob Zuma, a newspaper said on Thursday.

When Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas was preparing the statement he received a text message from a "prominent businessman," telling him to keep silent, Business Day - South Africa's main financial daily - said.

"Please keep your own counsel. Martyrdom is best left to Christ," the message, which cam from an unidentified source, said.

However, Jonas has not commented following the newspaper's reporting of the incident.

The report is the latest twist in a saga that has rocked the government of Africa's most advanced economy, amid suggestions that the Gupta family - whose business empire stretches from the media to mining - have had a hand in top political decisions.

The opposition has called for the president to resign, suggesting that the Gupta family may have been behind Zuma's decision to sack respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December and that the entire cabinet should be investigated as it may be compromised.

The Guptas, who sit on the boards of at least six companies with Zuma's son Duduzane, have denied offering jobs to anyone in government.

Zuma's office was not immediately available for comment.

"The rotten forces are on the back foot," Barbara Hogan, a former cabinet minister and leading anti-apartheid activist, told 702 Talk Radio.

"To those people who believe they still need to defend Zuma and have benefited from a close relationship with the Guptas, I appeal to them now to stand back."

The rand slipped 0.41 percent to 15.7045 per dollar by 0741 GMT, reversing gains triggered by the US central bank's decision to keep its lending rates unchanged.

Moody's analysts were due to visit South Africa on Wednesday of this week after putting its Baa2 credit rating on review. Investors fear further political uncertainty could hasten a downgrade, with Fitch and Standard & Poor's already rating the country just one step above subinvestment grade.

The claims concerning the Guptas have erupted just as a prolonged confrontation between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the elite Hawks police unit has raised concerns about a possible repeat of the run on the rand and bonds seen in December when Zuma fired Nene.

In his statement, Jonas said the Guptas had offered him Nene's job but he rejected it "out of hand" on the grounds that it made a mockery of South Africa's 22-year-old democracy.

Zuma is due to answer questions in parliament on Thursday, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is holding a scheduled leadership meeting this weekend at which the scandal will be discussed.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party had to "send a clear message, unequivocally" that it could not be unduly influenced.

However, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said it would not be making any hasty decisions. "Let's leave that to the processes of the ANC," he told 702 Talk Radio.

TRTWorld, Reuters