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Zuma: Guptas are my friends

President Jacob Zuma replies to questions in Parliament, Cape Town. South Africa. 19/06/2013

President Jacob Zuma replies to questions in Parliament, Cape Town. South Africa. 19/06/2013

Published Jun 20, 2013

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Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has refused to distance himself from the controversial Gupta family, saying he is entitled to be friends with whomever he chooses and cannot be expected to change them on the basis of “rumours”.

In the National Assembly on Wednesday, Zuma was asked by ID MP Joe McGluwa if he agreed that his friendship with the family was damaging the Presidency and the country, and whether he had spoken to them about “embarrassment” caused when a plane full of their wedding guests landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base.

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“Are you willing to cut your ties with the Gupta family?” McGluwa asked.

Zuma said: “Every human being has a right to have friends… We are not in the state that bans people because they have friends with others.”

However, he said if there were “specific issues” that had affected the interests of the government “people will come back and say, these are facts that say this thing has happened and therefore this thing is not good”.

But he added: “I don’t think you can just say because there are these rumours around, can you therefore change what you are doing? Because you don’t operate around rumours.”

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko asked how a culture had come about in Zuma’s government that resulted in officials being “willing and ready to act unlawfully and use public money to advance private interests” at the mention of his name.

But Zuma deflected the question, saying the government’s report on its investigation into the matter had come to Parliament and “dealt with the issues”.

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That report found the names of Zuma and two cabinet ministers had been “dropped” to facilitate the landing of the plane.

Cope MP Papi Kganare asked whether Zuma would order an investigation into a dairy project in the Free State in which a farm of 4 400 hectares had been handed over to a company to which the Gupta family was allegedly linked.

He said the company would be receiving R500 million to run the dairy project and could raise loans against the farm, which would be forfeited in the event they defaulted. He said the Guptas “have never been previously disadvantaged in this country”.

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Zuma suggested Kganare “bring the facts” so they could be investigated.

Aside from the Guptas, in answering a question from Cope’s Leonard Ramatlakane, he confirmed the Presidency had been approached by Libyan officials seeking the repatriation of funds allegedly deposited in South Africa on behalf of slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Zuma said Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had met the officials and agreed the funds would be returned “in terms of UN resolutions and protocols”.

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But he said South Africa could not act on reports that Bashir Saleh, known as “Gaddafi’s banker”, had been spotted in the country, including at an ANC centenary dinner and the Brics summit in Durban.

It would be a “funny” if the country investigated “every time there’s a mention that somebody is a criminal”.

Cape Argus

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