UPDATE 1-South Africa’s Zuma, back at inquiry, says his life is in danger
(Updates with more testimony, ANC secretary general’s comments)
By Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG, July 16 (Reuters) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday he had received a death threat after his testimony the previous day to a corruption inquiry, in which he denied allegations of graft and said his enemies had plotted decades ago to get rid of him.
The inquiry is spotlighting the graft allegations that clouded Zuma’s nine-year presidency, but analysts say that if it fails to pin a case on him it could dent President Cyril Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption drive. Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean up politics are already hampered by the lingering influence that Zuma and his allies exert over the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Zuma told the inquiry on Monday, his first day testifying, that he could trace a conspiracy to oust him back to foreign intelligence services and the apartheid government in the 1990s.
Appearing again on Tuesday, the former president said his personal assistant received a phone call late on Monday from an unknown caller threatening to kill Zuma and his children.
The country’s deputy chief justice, Raymond Zondo, who is overseeing the inquiry, said the threats were unacceptable.
As a former president, Zuma is protected by high-level state security. Police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the death threat was being investigated.
Zuma, who was ousted by the ANC in February 2018 and replaced by Ramaphosa, has consistently denied wrongdoing.
The inquiry is investigating allegations that Zuma allowed three Gupta brothers, friends of his, to plunder state resources and influence senior government appointments.
Several former officials have told the inquiry that the Guptas were privy to information about top government appointments.
The Guptas have denied the allegations against them.
On Tuesday, Zuma’s lawyers argued that the commission’s line of questioning was inappropriate because it amounted to cross-examination. This led to a delay in proceedings while the presiding judge decided how to proceed.
Zuma’s lawyers said the testimony at the inquiry so far had not implicated the former president in corruption or fraud, so he should not be cross-examined but should merely answer questions for clarification purposes.
Zuma also said he did not issue an instruction to remove Themba Maseko, former head of the government communications service, from his position after he refused to direct state advertising money to the Guptas’ media company in 2011.
Maseko told the inquiry that Zuma had telephoned him and told him to help the Guptas. Zuma said on Monday that he did not remember calling Maseko.
On Monday, Zuma denied that he had done anything unlawful with the Guptas or that he had discussed anything with them that he should not have.
The Gupta brothers left the country around the time that Zuma was ousted.
ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, a close ally of Zuma, addressed reporters during a break at the inquiry on Tuesday and suggested the inquiry’s focus on the Gupta family was misguided.
Magashule, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the ANC, has made comments that have directly contradicted Ramaphosa and his faction in the ANC in recent months.
“I don’t know why South Africa is not actually investigating every company which has worked with government, and why we are actually targeting one particular company and family,” Magashule said.
“Tell me which company has not met with government,” said Magashule, and added that journalists were not doing their work properly.
Magashule declined to answer a question about whether he thought the inquiry was biased, as Zuma’s lawyers have said. (Reporting by Alexander Winning Editing by Frances Kerry)
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