S.Africa graft probe at risk of subversion: minister

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Pravin Gordhan, South African Minister of public Enterprise and anti-graft campaigner, estimates around $7 billion may have been stolen through corrupt government tenders

Pravin Gordhan, South African Minister of public Enterprise and anti-graft campaigner, estimates around $7 billion may have been stolen through corrupt government tenders (AFP Photo/Wikus de Wet)

Johannesburg (AFP) - A respected South African minister and anti-graft campaigner on Monday warned an official probe into widespread state corruption risks being subverted by those who illicitly enriched themselves.

Pravin Gordhan, the minister of state-owned companies, issued the warning as he gave evidence to a judge-led inquiry into alleged corruption that tainted former president Jacob Zuma's time in office.

The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, which previously backed Gordhan, protested outside the Johannesburg-based inquiry accusing him of being "corrupt", an "enabler" of corruption and Zuma's "biggest defender".

"Those who have engaged... in malfeasances, (will) engage in the politics of distraction," said Gordhan.

Gordhan was finance minister before he was abruptly fired by Zuma in March 2017.

He estimated that around 100 billion rand ($7 billion, 6.2 billion euros) may have been stolen through corrupt government tenders.

He said he was "an unwitting member of an executive... which was lied to, manipulated and abused for the benefit of a few families".

"We allowed a climate of impunity in respect of crime and corruption to emerge."

The inquiry, which opened in August, is probing allegations Zuma organised a web of graft at government departments and public enterprises in a scandal known as "state capture".

Zuma was forced to resign in February over allegations centring around the Guptas, a wealthy Indian migrant business family at the heart of the scandal.

The country's anti-corruption ombudsman said in a report the Guptas held such sway that they chose some of Zuma's cabinet ministers and they are accused of fraudulently profiting from vast government contracts.

"It impacted severely on the economic growth of the country," said Gordhan.

He will continue testifying on Tuesday.

Another former finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, last month gave damning testimony accusing Zuma of pushing policies to benefit the Guptas.

Zuma himself has denied any improper relationship with the Guptas and rejects accusations of graft.

President Cyril Ramaphosa faces an electoral test at polls next year as public support has waned for his ruling African National Congress.

The party has ruled since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid rule.

Zuma, 76, has been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president but has applied to have the charges thrown out.