The Indian brothers who are accused of corrupting South African President Jacob Zuma lashed out on Friday at “xenophobic and hate speech” against them, and denied benefitting from links to the government.
The Gupta family’s power has allegedly extended to appointing ministers under Zuma, whose presidency has been engulfed in graft scandals and growing disillusion over the country’s post-apartheid prospects.
“As the global economic slowdown began to bite, the family became the scapegoat for every calamity and misfortune that South Africa has faced,” the Guptas said in a statement.
“We have been quiet until now but given the recent xenophobic and hate speech against us, now is the time to set the record straight.”
The statement was printed across a double-page spread in The New Age -- the pro-government paper they own -- under the headline “Gupta family: The Inconvenient Truth”.
“Our interaction with the current president began in 2000, which was long before he became president,” it said.
“It is absurd to suggest that we benefit from government business when only less than one percent of the (family’s) business is with the South African government.”
The statement listed the three Gupta brothers’ interests in mining, engineering, technology, media and property, and said they employ 5,000 staff after starting in 1993 with a marketing company in a Johannesburg garage.
“Our position remains: happy to face the consequences for any wrongdoing, hard though to deal with ‘whispering campaign,” it added.
The statement comes after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said that they offered him the top job in the treasury last year.
He said he rejected the offer, but several other ministerial appointment have been widely reported as being due to the Guptas.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC), which led the struggle to end apartheid, began a three-day meeting of its national executive committee on Friday, where the Gupta controversy is likely to dominate.
Jonas’s revelations appeared to expose a major split in the party, pitting Zuma’s extensive network of loyalists against reformers headed by finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
The ANC remains the dominant force in South Africa and easily won elections in 2014 that kept Zuma in power.
But opposition parties are hoping to make gains in local polls this year as anger grows over lack of racial transformation since the end of white rule, soaring unemployment and high inflation.