'Hands off Guptas,' says Zuma
President Jacob Zuma has leapt to the defence of the Gupta family, questioning the "willy-nilly" closing of the politically connected family's Oakbay business accounts by the country's biggest banks.
He also lashed out at former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report and her recommendation that he appoint a commission of inquiry into state capture headed by a judge selected by the chief justice.
Zuma was responding to questions in the National Assembly.
Responding to UDM leader Bantu Holomisa's question, Zuma said the decision by the banks suggested "collusion" and could adversely affect the country's image .
He said the closing of the bank accounts of Oakbay Investments was no "ordinary act" and he had ordered Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to look into it.
The big four banks - Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank - and other financial institutions closed Oakbay's accounts without giving a reason because they are bound to treat all dealings with their clients as confidential.
But it later emerged that suspicious transactions on the Gupta accounts amounting to R6.8-billion were probably behind the termination of service.
"If a number of banks act in the same way simultaneously, not one bank, not two banks, including some financial institutions, to any ordinary person that is not an ordinary act," said Zuma. "It suggests that there is something. The banks can't act together in the same manner in the same way. It gives a feeling that there is something going on here."
Holomisa asked Zuma what his position was regarding Zwane's earlier claim that the cabinet had mandated him to lead an inter-ministerial committee to facilitate discussions between Oakbay and the banks.
Zuma said it was not the cabinet but he who ordered Zwane to intervene. He said the government had to intervene because the banks' decision was putting "the image of the country into some problems''.
"Bear in mind that the government has always continued to ask for the private sector to invest, including investors from outside South Africa. If you are sitting at the level of the government and see an action of this nature, highly publicised, you have to say what will the investor out there think of coming to invest in South Africa.
"If they think the banks can willy-nilly act in a manner that suggests collusion, about the economy of your country, as a government you can't sit and say: 'I'm doing nothing'," said Zuma.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said Zuma seemed to have no understanding of what constituted "national interest".
"In this case, it happens to clash with a personal interest and therefore he has to keep up this public pretence that somebody has been wronged. "It is an extension of something he excels at personally - personal victimhood."
Zuma's response to Holomisa's question in parliament was at odds with the explanation given by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who had said in an affidavit that R6.8-billion in "suspicious and unusual transactions" involving the Oakbay accounts might have contributed to the decision by the banks.
Zuma said Zwane had apologised for falsely announcing the setting up of an inquiry into the banks actions and no further action against him was required.
The DA's David Maynier had asked why Zwane had not been fired.
"I reprimanded the minister and he apologised. This matter is now closed. What more do you want?" said Zuma.
On Madonsela's State of Capture report, Zuma said the process had been "unfair" to him. He said that only he could decide if there should be a commission of inquiry.
"This report has been dealt with in a very funny way. No fairness at all. The manner in which the report comes in makes recommendations in a matter that concerns some of us who are mentioned there. It is the president who has the right to appoint a commission," said Zuma.
Constitutional law academic Pierre de Vos said Zuma had no choice but to abide by the public protector's findings on remedial action and set up an inquiry into state capture.
"He has two options. He must comply with remedial action as imposed by the public protector because that remedial action is binding. Or, if he believes the remedial action is not in accordance with the law and the constitution, he can approach a court to have the protector's report reviewed and set aside.
"What he cannot do is ignore the remedial action [prescribed]," said De Vos.