An elite South African police team has raided the luxurious home of a family of controversial businessmen accused of improper relations with Jacob Zuma, as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party continues its chaotic efforts to oust the country’s president.
The raid on the compound of the wealthy Gupta family in Johannesburg came as the ANC said a vote of no confidence in Zuma would be held on Thursday. It will be taken as an encouraging sign that Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC leader, will move swiftly against those associated with the corruption allegations and mismanagement that have characterised Zuma’s nine years in power.
Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the police unit known as the Hawks, said the raid was part of an investigation into allegations of influence-peddling in the government.
“We’re viewing this investigation in a very serious light. We’re not playing around in terms of making sure that those who are responsible in the so-called state capture, they take responsibility for it,” Mulaudzi said.
The Guptas are accused of “state capture” by the public prosecutor, a constitutionally appointed independent anti-corruption watchdog that coined the phrase to describe how the family has allegedly used its friendship with Zuma to influence ministerial appointments, secure multimillion-dollar government contracts and gain access to inside information. The Guptas and Zuma deny any wrongdoing.
A police officer at the compound blocked access to the street in the upmarket suburb of Saxonwold, saying: “This is a crime scene.”
Another raid in Johannesburg targeted the home of the managing director of one of the principal companies owned and run by the Guptas.
Three arrests had been made and two other suspects were expected to hand themselves in, police said, adding that operations across the city were ongoing.
South Africa was pitched into political crisis when the ANC admitted on Monday that Zuma had defied its orders to resign, and that it had little idea of when the 75-year-old head of state would respond to its demand to leave office.
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s chief whip, said parliament would vote on a no-confidence motion on Thursday. “We would like to create certainty … to help people [who are] guessing what we are going to do next,” he said after a meeting of ANC lawmakers.
The ANC has a majority in parliament and opposition parties will not support Zuma. According to the constitution, the president and the cabinet must resign if the no-confidence motion passes.
Mthembu suggested that an election for a new president, who is selected by representatives in parliament, could occur immediately after the no-confidence vote if the chief justice, who has to preside, is available.
This raises the possibility that Ramaphosa, who is deputy president, could replace Zuma by the weekend or even earlier.
Shortly after news of the no confidence vote broke, Zuma summoned state broadcasters and gave a rambling TV interview, saying he felt his treatment was “unfair”.
“No one has given me a reason for why they want me to resign,” he said. “The [ANC] leadership, just two months after being elected, they are only focused on my exit. People have been saying [Zuma must go] for years but they never give reasons. So why should I go now?”
Zuma added that he had not defied the ANC’s call for him to step down, but had disagreed with it. “I think it is baseless,” he said. “In the ANC you have to be convinced with facts. This has been done in a manner that I feel I am being victimised.”
The failure to immediately force out Zuma, who faces a range of corruption charges and has become an electoral liability, has angered many South Africans. The raid on the home of the Guptas will go some way towards restoring the sense of optimism prompted by Ramaphosa’s election as party leader in December.
Zuma’s tumultuous nine years in power have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom from apartheid in 1994, but the former activist retains significant support inside the ANC and at a local level in many parts of South Africa.
Analysts have described the crisis as “a battle for the soul of the ANC” and “a referendum on the true balance of power within the party”.