By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman said on Monday his office was not aware of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s request to be relieved of his duties after he admitted to visiting the Gupta brothers.
The rand fell more than one percent when Business Day newspaper reported Nene had asked Ramaphosa to remove him after the finance minister admitted to visiting the home of the Guptas, friends of scandal-plagued former leader Jacob Zuma.
Nene has become a divisive figure after testimony he gave last week at an inquiry into allegations of corruption by the Guptas, in which he admitted to the previously undisclosed visits. He made a public apology about the matter on Friday.
Zuma and the Guptas, who face numerous allegations of using their friendship for mutual self-enrichment, have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Business Day cited unidentified government sources as saying that Nene made the request to Ramaphosa at the weekend.
Nene did not answer calls for comment.
“We are not aware of Minister Nene asking to be relieved of his duties. What the president has noted is the testimony that he submitted to the Zondo commission,” Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman Khusela Diko said.
“At this point what we are appealing for is for the commission to be allowed to do its work and make findings, and on the basis of that the president will see what further action is required,” she said.
The public inquiry headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is reviewing allegations that three Gupta brothers — Atul, Ajay and Rajesh — unduly influenced Zuma about political appointments and the awarding of government contracts.
The inquiry was set up on the recommendation of a 2016 report, entitled “State of Capture”, into alleged influence-peddling in Zuma’s administration by the Public Protector, South Africa’s main anti-corruption authority.
Opposition parties have called for Nene’s resignation.
Nene is a key ally of Ramaphosa, who reappointed him finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle shortly after he became president earlier this year.
Ramaphosa’s stated commitment to boosting growth and stamping out graft has gone down well with foreign investors and ANC members, who felt Zuma’s handling of the economy could seriously damage the party in the 2019 national elections.
Asked about the reports that Nene had requested to be relieved from his position, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said: “Let’s wait and see what happens.”
Gordhan, who is a former finance minister and close ally to Ramaphosa, is attending a conference in London.
Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane referred Reuters to the presidency for comment.
Nene told the inquiry he was fired by Zuma in December 2015 for blocking deals that would have benefited the Guptas, particularly a $100 billion nuclear power deal with Russia that could have crippled Africa’s most developed economy.
But Nene’s opponents say he was involved in corrupt deals with the Guptas when he was deputy finance minister and head of the state pension fund. He denies ever helping the Guptas.
(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg and Karin Strohecker in London, Writing by James Macharia, Editing by William Maclean)