Former South African President Jacob Zuma today appeared before a judicial panel for the first time to answer accusations that he consented to and benefited from widespread looting during his nine-year rule.
Lawyers for the commission of inquiry questioned Zuma about claims by previous witnesses that he allowed members of the Gupta family, who were his friends, to influence his administration’s appointments and to flout government rules to further their business interests.
Zuma has since denied that his relationship with the Gupta family over allegations that they were corrupt, or that they influenced any of the political appointments he made. The ex-president confirmed that he asked the family to help set up a newspaper — the now defunct New Age — to change the “negative” narrative in the country.
Ex-Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan estimates that more than 100 billion rand ($7.2 billion) may have been looted during Zuma’s rule.
“I have never done anything with them unlawfully or whatever, they just remained friends,” Zuma said. “I have wondered why I am accused, why people think my relationship with them is not right when they had relationships with other people,” he said, adding that the Guptas were also acquainted with former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
Zuma spent almost more than an hour talking about a perceived campaign to discredit him.
The inquiry, headed by South Africa’s deputy chief justice, Raymond Zondo, held its first hearing in August 2018 and is due to finish next year.