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Fraud charges against South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have opened fresh divisions within the ruling ANC. Gordhan’s supporters claim the charges are politically motivated.

A senior member of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress on Sunday called on the entire party leadership to step down, including President Jacob Zuma, saying fraud charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan constituted a politically motivated abuse of power.

« When I said the entire ANC leadership … must take the fall, I meant everybody, myself included, including President Zuma, » Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s parliamentary whip, told eNCA television.

Gordhan faces fraud charges that while heading the tax agency, he approved the early retirement of a close deputy commissioner who was then rehired as a consultant. The move cost the tax agency $79,000 (72,600 euros).

Gordhan, expected in court on November 2, has denied the charges, calling them politically motivated. The charges against him have opened yawning divisions within the ANC, with several top party leaders supporting Gordhan.

The party was already facing an internal revolt over poor performance in August local elections, judged to be an ominous harbinger for national elections in 2019, as voters turned their backs on the liberation party due to corruption, poor services and a stubbornly high unemployment rate near 30 percent.

« In my view, a minister is being pursued for political reasons, and then charged with fraud. That’s why I’ve then said, perhaps we are not the leadership that can take the ANC forward under these conditions, » Mthembu said.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, ANC Youth League President Collen Maine and Umkhonto we Sizwe, an association of the ANC’s former armed wing, all rejected Mthembu’s comments.

Plot by Zuma?

Analysts and supporters of Gordhan say the charges could be part of a plot by Zuma and his allies to undermine him, although as early as this week the finance minister said he had no issues with the president. Zuma has similarly voiced support for his finance minister to get the economy back on track.

Investors fear Gordhan’s prosecution could see him removed as finance minister, an event that could shake the economy and threaten South Africa’s credit rating.

Gordhan has criticized corruption in government, including cases tied to Zuma and alleged corruption of his associates.

Last week, the Treasury supported a court affidavit submitted by Gordhan linking Oakbay Investments and its owners Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta to $491 million in suspicious transactions since 2012.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers are close to Zuma, who has already been plagued by corruption allegations.

The outgoing anti-graft public prosecutor has written a report alleging the Guptas influenced the appointment of ministers, but the High Court delayed the report’s release after an application by Zuma.

The incoming public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has said the report will not be released until Zuma’s application has been heard on November 1.

The opposition parties have accused the Guptas of racketeering, money laundering and corruption, among other things, and want Zuma to step down.

cw/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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