South Africa's Zuma bats away graft inquiry questions

Zuma confirms meeting the Gupta brothers to discuss the 'New Age,' the newspaper that he had encouraged them to set up in 2010, but denies knowing about alleged harassment of civil servants by Gupta executives

Agence France-Presse

Published: 10:56 PM July 16, 2019

Updated: 10:56 PM July 16, 2019

JACOB ZUMA. Former South African president Jacob Zuma arrives at the state commission that is probing wide-ranging allegations of corruption in government and state-owned companies in Johannesburg on July 16, 2019. Photo by AFP

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Former South African president Jacob Zuma on Tuesday, July 16, rebuffed all accusations of wrongdoing on his second day of testimony at an inquiry into corruption under his rule.

Zuma said he and his family had received death threats after his first day at the judicial inquiry being held in Johannesburg.

The former president was asked to respond to testimony by several earlier witnesses who alleged that he granted favours to the wealthy Gupta family at the heart of the "state capture" scandal.

He repeatedly replied that he was unaware of or not present at alleged meetings.

During hours of questioning, Zuma, 77, confirmed he had met the Gupta brothers to discuss the New Age, the newspaper that he had encouraged them to set up in 2010.

But he denied that he knew about alleged harassment of civil servants by Gupta executives demanding that the government's advertising budget was spent with the newspaper.

Asked whether he met with the Guptas over the newspaper project, he replied: "From time to time they briefed me."

"They were just briefing me on progress they were making in establishing that business, the newspaper – not the financing," he said.

Looking relaxed, he often replied "I know nothing about it" and "I can't comment" when presented with witness testimony implicating him.

Zuma's testimony was briefly halted after his lawyers complained that he was being cross-examined rather than allowed to present his evidence to the inquiry.

He said that on Monday evening his personal assistant received a call from an unknown person saying "you must tell Zuma that we are going to kill him, we will also kill his children."

"My life, my children's and my lawyers' are now under threat," he said.

On the first day of his testimony, Zuma said he was the victim of conspiracies and years of "character assassination," and he accused foreign intelligence agencies and spies of working against him.

In the "state capture" scandal, Zuma is accused of overseeing mass looting of state assets during his nine-year tenure before being ousted by the ruling ANC party in 2018.

He is due to continue giving evidence until Friday.

Led by judge Raymond Zondo, the inquiry is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the Gupta family and state-owned companies. –