Johannesburg - The ANC declined to comment on a Mail & Guardian report on Friday claiming President Jacob Zuma had more benefactors than previously thought to cover his debts and expenses.
“We can't comment on a private matter as an organisation. It has nothing to do with anybody,” spokesman Keith Khoza said.
The African National Congress would not discuss the report with Zuma either, on the grounds that his finances were private.
“We cannot dignify irresponsible reporting by the Mail & Guardian; this has got nothing to do with the public office and the office of the president.”
The Young Communist League of SA (YCLSA) said the story was “repackaged” gossip, using old tricks intended to discredit Zuma ahead of the party's 53rd national conference in Mangaung, where the party's top leadership will be elected.
“The story has nothing (but) Mangaung written all over it, and takes us back five years ago where the media was used to try and dissuade delegates from pushing ahead with the election of the President Jacob Zuma,” said Mawethu Rune, YCLSA deputy national chair.
The information in the report was not tested either, denying Zuma the right to reply, it said.
The YCLSA believed that “the more the slander targeted at victimising President Zuma, the better he stands to be re-elected”.
According to the 500-page KPMG report, a 2006 forensic probe into Zuma's finances revealed that former president Nelson Mandela gave him R1 million to help settle his debts.
According to the report, Mandela came to Zuma's rescue in June 2005, a few days after he was fired as deputy president and after the National Prosecuting Authority announced it would charge Zuma with corruption relating to alleged bribes from French arms company Thales.
A total of 783 payments were made to Zuma by his corruption-convicted, former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, amounting to more than R4 million.
Zuma benefited from several businessmen, including his nephew Khulubuse Zuma, and Durban businessman Vivian Reddy.
According to the report large commercial banks “bent over backwards” to accommodate Zuma because of his political position, writing off his bad debts.
Standard Bank reportedly wrote off a bond account as bad debt. Absa reportedly opened accounts in spite of his history of poor or late repayments, because of his “strategic positioning”.
Standard Bank spokesman Erik Larsen said: “Standard Bank is bound by law not to discuss clients' financial affairs. This applies to all the banks.”
Absa spokesman Patrick Wadula said it was attending to the request for comment.
The report said an FNB official wrote that he or she was sure the “powers that be will assist us where we need to bend the rules a little”.
Bank spokesman Steve Higgins said: “The bank’s lending decisions are based on the customer’s ability to repay the loan and the securities provided to support the facility. We are unable to discuss customer accounts as these matters are confidential to the customer.”
Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory spokesman Sello Hatang said he was not in a position to comment on Friday as he did not have the information contained in the KPMG report.
Comment from presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj could not immediately be obtained as he was out of the country with Zuma, who was on a working visit to Tanzania. An official in the presidency said only Maharaj could comment.
Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said the paper ran the story without seeking comment first from Zuma or others named in it, contrary to their right of reply practice. This was because the risk of being prevented from publishing it “was real”.
The publication invited comment on the story, which it said it would publish immediately.
The Democratic Alliance said Zuma had to take a leave of absence until his name had been cleared.
“The full story will come out eventually, but until then President Zuma must take a leave of absence from his office until these allegations have been proved or discounted,” said Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe, who is also chairman of the DA federal executive.
The KPMG report was prepared ahead of Zuma's high court appearance on corruption charges in 2006. It was however not used once the charges were dropped, after the NPA said it had found evidence of interference in the investigation.
The DA was trying through the courts to get the tapes which formed the basis for the decision to have the corruption charges dropped, and the record of the decision.
The Christian Democratic Party's Rev Theunis Botha said Zuma could no longer be considered a suitable candidate for president, called for him to step down, and for a caretaker president to be appointed until the controversy around the funding of his home in Nkandla was resolved. - Sapa