Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene says he was wrong to have met the Guptas at their Saxonwold mansion in Johannesburg and he "begs" South Africans' forgiveness.
"Part of my duty as a public office bearer is to meet fellow South Africans and other stakeholders when they request to do so. However, I was wrong in meeting the Guptas at their residence and not in my office or at least a public place," Nene says in a statement released on Friday by National Treasury.
Nene on Wednesday testified that he visited the Guptas six times at their home while he was deputy minister and minister of finance between 2009 and 2014. He has previously denied having "engagements" with them and told eNCA in May 2016 that he only "bumped" into them at government functions.
During his testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture, he was asked why he went to Saxonwold rather than receiving the Guptas at his ministerial office. Nene said he "saw no harm to honour the invitation" to visit Saxonwold.
In his statement, Nene says it is common practice for public office bearers to engage with stakeholders like business people, but admits that "context matters".
'I deeply regret these lapses'
"As soon as I became aware of the controversy swirling around the family’s business dealings, I should, subject to there being a legitimate reason for doing so, have met Guptas at my office, accompanied, as is customary, by a ministry of finance or Treasury official," he says.
Nene says he owes South Africans conduct that is "beyond reproach" because of the faith the public places in him.
"But I am human too, I do make mistakes, including those of poor judgement. However, it is reasonable of the public to expect public office bearers to own up fully and timeously to the mistakes they make in the course of carrying out their public duties. I should also have disclosed early, and fully, the details of these meetings, in particular those that took place in Saxonwold."
The visits to the Guptas cast a shadow over his conduct, Nene says. "I deeply regret these lapses and beg your forgiveness."
In the statement, Nene also addresses the revelations published on Friday by the Mail & Guardian and amaBhungane about his son’s business dealings.
According to the report, Siyabonga Nene and a business partner applied for a loan from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) in 2014, while Nene was chairperson of the PIC’s board. Although their company did not get the loan, Nene Jr’s business partner scored millions.
Calls for Public Protector investigation
The finance minister told the state capture commission he welcomes any investigation into allegations surrounding the deal and he will cooperate with the commission.
In his statement, he says he encourages anyone with information about the matter to hand it over to the commission. On Wednesday, he denied any impropriety during his term as chairperson of the PIC.
The DA has, in the meantime, asked the Public Protector to investigate whether Nene might be guilty of breaches of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act.
The EFF said in a statement on Friday that Nene "is nowhere close to being squeaky clean and corrupt free". It claims that Nene Jr benefitted from the PIC deal and that Nene’s activities during his tenure as deputy minister of finance "bordered on corruption".
The party repeated its call for Nene to resign.