May 26, 2017 / 8:03 AM / in 5 months

Zuma says not against anti-graft probe as ANC grandees gather

President Jacob Zuma addresses crowds gathered to celebrate his 75th birthday in Kliptown, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/James Oatway

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma said on Friday he was not against setting up an inquiry into claims of corruption in his government, after the ruling ANC denied a report it would this weekend discuss his removal as party head.

The Public Protector, an anti-corruption watchdog, published a report in November that alleged Zuma was influenced by the Guptas, a wealthy South African family with business interests from mining to media, in making government appointments.

Zuma faced down calls to resign over those claims, which both he and the Guptas have denied.

But pressure against him within the African National Congress, opposition parties and civil society has swelled since he axed respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan in March, triggering credit rating downgrades that have hit chances of a recovery in the struggling economy.

At the time of the report’s release, the watchdog also called on Zuma to appoint a commission within 30 days to examine its claims, which the president has yet to do.

He said on Friday he was “not opposed to establishing a commission of inquiry”, without specifying a timeframe. In a statement from his office, he also said the Protector had erred in law by asking him to set it up.

The ANC’s National Executive Committee meets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Bloomberg on Tuesday quoted two anonymous sources as saying it would discuss Zuma’s removal from the party presidency.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa called the report “a complete fabrication”.

The ANC stood by Zuma at a similar meeting in November in a debate about whether he should step down, and analysts poured cold water on chances of him being ousted or quitting before his term as party head ends in December.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, considered a likely candidate for ANC president in December, last month said he wanted the influence-peddling allegations investigated, lending support to the watchdog’s recommendations.

Ramaphosa has not formally announced his intention to stand.

A separate faction within the ANC including Zuma backs his ex-wife, former African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to replace him as party head.

Zuma’s term as South African head of state runs until 2019.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Writing by James Macharia; editing by John Stonestreet

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