South Africa’s finance minister testified Wednesday that he was sacked from the post by former president Jacob Zuma for refusing to back policies that would profit the Gupta business family at the heart of a corruption scandal.
The Guptas are accused of fraudulently benefitting from government contracts and energy and transport deals during Zuma’s presidency. He was ousted earlier this year amid multiple corruption allegations.
Nhlanhla Nene was sacked by Zuma in 2015 in a move that shocked many South Africans and foreign investors. It fuelled allegations that Zuma and the Guptas were overseeing rampant state corruption.
Nene was re-appointed as finance minister by the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa. He has vowed to crack down on graft and to revive growth in South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy.
“I do believe that I was removed from office due to my refusal to toe the line in relation to certain projects,” Nene told a judicial inquiry into state corruption.
“Those projects may have benefitted the Gupta family and other close associates of the then president… for instance the nuclear deal and the SAA (South African Airways) strategy.”
Nene, speaking on oath at the hearings in Johannesburg, said that his then deputy Mcebisi Jonas was offered his job after Nene refused to back a huge nuclear expansion programme that the Guptas were set to benefit from.
“It makes sense that those who wish to pursue a systematic strategy to raid the public coffers… would attack the role or credibility of the national treasury,” Nene said in hours of testimony that piled accusations of misconduct on Zuma.
Nene said pressure was applied on the treasury to access government funding or “to conceal dubious or irregular procurement.”
Jonas has previously told the inquiry that one of the Gupta brothers threatened to kill him after Jonas refused to accept a $40 million bribe.
The inquiry, which opened in August, is probing allegations that Zuma organised systematic corruption in a scandal known as “state capture”.
Zuma was forced to resign in February over allegations centred on the Guptas, who were reportedly able to choose some of Zuma’s cabinet ministers.
Ramaphosa faces elections next year. The ANC party, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid rule, faces falling public support.
Both Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
Zuma, 76, has also been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president. He will next appear in court on November 30.