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S.Africa watchdog calls for Zuma graft report release

Susan NJANJI
South African President Jacob Zuma has survived a string of damaging scandals, but has faced increasing criticism as the economy has stalled (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)

Pretoria (AFP) - South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog on Friday called for the prompt release of a potentially explosive report into allegations President Jacob Zuma allowed a powerful Indian business family undue political sway over him.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's call came after Zuma launched last-minute court action delaying the release, saying he had not had time to respond to questions about so-called "state capture" by the Gupta family which stands accused of wielding so much power it was even able to nominate a cabinet minister.

"I disagree with those who say the 'state capture' investigation was not urgent," Madonsela told reporters.

"This matter has created so much fracture in the executive and in the country, it was necessary for the investigation to be done and to be done fast so that any cloud is cleared."

The report was expected to be released on Friday, the last day in office for Madonsela, who has regularly clashed with the president.

The Guptas -- brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh -- built an empire in mining transportation, technology and media after coming to South Africa from India in the early 1990s. One of Zuma's sons, Duduzane, is a business partner of the Guptas.

In March, deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas accused the family in a statement of offering him the job of finance minister, something he said he rejected.

Zuma, 74, has survived a series of damaging scandals, but has faced increasing criticism as the economy has stalled and after the ruling ANC party suffered unprecedented losses in local polls.

"Just because sometimes we deal with underhand people, it doesn't mean we also have to be underhanded," Madonsela told her farewell news conference, adding that she was not directly referring to Zuma.

Madonsela said she had handed the report to parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete for "safe keeping", pending a court hearing next month.

But, in the latest political move, Mbete on Friday evening refused to accept the report saying that keeping such documents was not within the Speaker's duties.

- Corruption buster -

Madonsela declined to comment on new reports that ANC lawmaker David van Rooyen had met the Guptas the night before his appointment as finance minister in December.

Van Rooyen replaced the widely-respected Nhlanhla Nene, but was removed from the job after only four days, following a market plunge and wave of political outrage.

Under Madonsela, the Public Protector's office gained a reputation as a formidable corruption buster, handing down scathing findings against Zuma, state agencies and public companies.

Reflecting on her much-praised time in office, she said: "It is about finding the truth and telling it the best you know how in an effort to help the government treat its people properly."

In 2014, she dealt a major blow to Zuma in a report that found he 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.

After serving her seven-year term, Madonsela has been replaced by Busisiwe Mkhwebane, a home ministry official.

Zuma endured another bout of criticism this week after Pravin Gordhan, who took over as finance minister from van Rooyen, was summoned to court on separate graft charges.

Gordhan, a vocal campaigner against corruption within the government, has alleged that the case against him is politically motivated.

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