JOHANNESBURG Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is set to return to South Africa early on Tuesday after being ordered home from London by President Jacob Zuma, hours before a court hearing over the closure of accounts belonging to friends of the president.
Zuma’s order on Monday that Gordhan return “immediately” from a roadshow for investors in Britain and the United States has revived talk of a cabinet reshuffle and unnerved investors who see Gordhan as an emblem of stability. The rand fell more than 3 percent on Monday while bonds tumbled.
In December, Gordhan asked the High Court to rule he was not allowed to interfere with decisions by South Africa’s major banks to close business accounts of Oakbay Investments, owned by brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta and with interests stretching from technology to media to mining.
Allegations that the Guptas wielded undue influence over Zuma were investigated last year by the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated anti-corruption watchdog. Zuma has said the Guptas are his friends, but denies there is anything improper about the relationship.
Gordhan has said the brothers have repeatedly asked him to intervene to have their accounts reopened.
The finance minister has accused the Gupta brothers of waging an “organised campaign” against him and Treasury, while the trio have themselves accused Gordhan of conducting a vendetta against them and trying to damage their business.
Political analyst Prince Mashele said the sudden summoning of the finance minister from his overseas trip so close to the court case pointed to a possible link to the Gupta case.
“The case indirectly involves Zuma because his friends, the Guptas, are involved,” Mashele said.
Between December 2015 and April 2016, FirstRand (FSRJ.J), Standard Bank (SBKJ.J), Nedbank (NEDJ.J) and Barclays Africa (BGAJ.J) terminated the accounts of companies controlled by the brothers. The banks are also party to the court hearings.
In its affidavit supporting Gordhan’s application, Standard Bank asked the court to prevent the government from further intervening in its decision to terminate its relations with Gupta-owned companies.
The state attorney confirmed Zuma would be represented in the case as an interested party.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by James Macharia and Catherine Evans)