Cape Town - Questions about the Gupta family's possible financial gain from their close links to President Jacob Zuma are being raised not just by the opposition, but also increasingly from within ANC ranks.
According to Fin24 columnist Solly Moeng, "It is generally accepted that the name Gupta has become toxic in much of South Africa and, increasingly, parts of the ruling party.
"Encouragingly, more independent ANC voices... have made themselves heard in recent weeks, expressing their displeasure with the capture of key state entities by the Guptas using high-level political connections."
Many South Africans see the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma as inextricably linked, writes Andrew England in the Financial Times.
The Guptas' detractors claim that under Zuma's watch, predatory networks of patronage and cronyism are effectively looting the state, so that the term “state capture” - the distribution of state contracts among a cabal of politicians and businessmen - has become part of the South African lexicon. As their interests and role are increasingly probed, some see the Guptas as a symbol of the ills afflicting the nation.
The family's "sole competitive advantage seems to be their closeness to important political leaders... notably President Zuma and his family,” according to David Lewis, head of Corruption Watch.
Zuma and Ajay Gupta have defended their relationship to the FT and deny the family has any influence over politics, or that it has derived any untoward benefit from their relationship.
According to Ajay Gupta, only 1% of the more than R5bn annual revenue generated from the Guptas' business interests comes from government contracts.
“It’s rubbish, completely rubbish,” Gupta said, responding to questions about whether his family has had any influence over ministerial appointments. “These are all rumours and you cannot give a reply to the rumours. You cannot justify it.”
The Nenegate debacle triggered speculation that Zuma and his allies were seeking greater access to government purse strings, with Floyd Shivambu, deputy leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, writing at the time that Nhlanhla Nene “was removed (as finance minister) to open space for the Gupta-led syndicate to loot state resources for private enrichment”.
The unexpected move sent the rand into a nosedive, and has been calculated to cost the South African economy R500bn as well as speeding up the country's sovereign credit rating into junk status.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported this week that a firm that’s almost half-owned by President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, obtained shares in a company founded by the Gupta family weeks before that firm bought Glencore’s Optimum coal complex.
Tegeta Exploration & Resources agreed to pay R2.15bn for the Optimum mine, which supplies Eskom with coal, in a deal announced three weeks after Duduzane Zuma took the stake in Tegeta.
Writing on Biznews website, James Lorimer said: "South Africans can be forgiven for thinking that a Minister whose main purpose in the post is to deliver sweetheart mining deals to enrich the President’s family and his cronies has facilitated a deal which will work with the connivance of Eskom paying especially high prices for coal bought from Optimum."
According to Bloomberg, Oakbay Investments, the holding company for the Gupta family's businesses in South Africa which owns part of Tegeta, said: “We can categorically state we have received no assistance from the minister in the closure of this deal.”
The transaction highlights complaints from Zuma’s political opponents that the Zuma family and their allies have benefited financially during his seven years as president, adding further fuel to attacks on the president for Nene's firing and South Africa's subsequent economic ills.
Meanwhile Oakbay Investments, the holding company for the Gupta family's businesses in South Africa, has strongly denied all reports that the Gupta brothers are leaving South Africa and relocating to Dubai.
Adding to the outpouring against the Guptas' perceived influence, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said in Parliament: "He (Zuma) sold all of us out to his friends, the Guptas, who have built lucrative mining and media empires at the expense of real Black Economic Empowerment.
"And in selling us out to the Guptas he has allowed his family members – his son Duduzane and his nephew Khulubuse– to hitch a ride on this train to instant wealth."