In the latest flare-up of a widening corruption scandal, South Africa’s finance minister has resigned from his cabinet post for failing to disclose his meetings with the controversial Gupta business family.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday that he is accepting the departure of Nhlanhla Nene, who submitted a resignation letter earlier in the day after he admitted to having a series of meetings with the Gupta brothers at their mansion in Johannesburg and other locations from 2010 to 2014.
The Guptas, who built a vast business empire in the mining and media industries in South Africa after forging a partnership with the son of former president Jacob Zuma, are now under criminal investigation on corruption allegations. They fled the country after Mr. Zuma’s resignation in February and now live in Dubai.
Mr. Nene had previously denied any private meetings with the Guptas, but he finally admitted them last week during his testimony to a national inquiry into state corruption.
In a public apology after his testimony, Mr. Nene said he was sorry for failing to disclose the meetings, which took place when he was deputy finance minister and later when he was finance minister.
“I was wrong in meeting the Guptas at their residence,” he said. “I should have disclosed early, and fully, the details of these meetings. … These visits do cast a shadow on my conduct as a public office bearer. I deeply regret these lapses and beg your forgiveness.”
Mr. Nene had committed “errors of judgment” but was not personally implicated in any wrongdoing, Mr. Ramaphosa said in his announcement on Tuesday. He said he was accepting Mr. Nene’s resignation “in the interests of good governance.”
The President appointed a respected former governor of South Africa’s central bank, Tito Mboweni, as the new finance minister. The announcement led to a strengthening of the South African currency, the rand, which had weakened after earlier reports of Mr. Nene’s likely resignation.
By accepting Mr. Nene’s resignation, Mr. Ramaphosa is setting a tough new standard for corruption issues. Many ministers in his cabinet and the previous Zuma cabinets have held meetings with the Guptas, and some have provided favours to the family. He is urging those ministers and other senior officials to follow Mr. Nene’s example by volunteering to give testimony at the national inquiry into corruption so that their conduct can be reviewed.
Until the latest revelations, Mr. Nene was widely seen as a hero of the resistance to corruption.
Despite heavy pressure from Mr. Zuma in 2015, Mr. Nene refused to give his approval to a massive nuclear energy project that could have cost up to US$100-billion and would have benefited the Guptas, who owned a uranium mine. Five months after refusing to sign a letter of guarantee that would have given the project to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy company, Mr. Nene was fired from Mr. Zuma’s cabinet and was briefly replaced by a pro-Gupta minister. The nuclear project was eventually shelved.
In a separate issue, a South African newspaper reported last week that Mr. Nene’s son, Siyabonga Nene, had sought financing from a state agency, the Public Investment Corporation, at a time when his father was the senior government representative on the PIC board.
The new finance minister, Mr. Mboweni, is seen as a safe pair of hands. He served as labour minister in the cabinet of former president Nelson Mandela in the mid-1990s and was widely praised for his work as the governor of the South African Reserve Bank from 1999 to 2009.
Opposition leaders, however, noted that Mr. Mboweni had been active on social media in the past and had once posted a tweet in which he called for state ownership of 40 per cent of all mining companies.