Nhlanhla Nene apologises and begs forgiveness for ‘mistake’

Finance minister says he should have confessed earlier to meeting Guptas

Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene at the state capture inquiry.
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene at the state capture inquiry.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has apologised to all South Africans for meeting the embattled Gupta brothers at their home and businesses‚ begging citizens to forgive him.

Nene has become an increasingly divisive figure after testimony he gave at the inquiry into allegations of corruption by the Guptas – close friends of former president Jacob Zuma – on Wednesday.

Nene told the inquiry that he had been fired by Zuma in December 2015 for blocking deals that would have benefited the Guptas, particularly a $100bn (R1.48-trillion) nuclear power deal with Russia.

Some political analysts praised Nene for refusing to bow to the wishes of Zuma and his powerful business allies.

However, Nene also revealed for the first time that he had held several meetings with the Guptas at their home in Johannesburg, a confession his opponents said tarnished his anti-graft credentials.

In a statement issued on Friday by the finance ministry‚ Nene said during his testimony this week he had made reference to “the visits I made to the Gupta family business in Midrand as well as their residence in Saxonwold‚ Johannesburg.

“These visits took place during the period from 2010 to 2014‚ when I was deputy minister and finance minister. Part of my duty as a public officebearer is to meet fellow South Africans and other shareholders 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 said it was quite a common practice globally for public office-bearers to attend gatherings at residences of business people‚ fellow politicians‚ and others.

“But‚ context matters. As soon as I became aware of the controversy around the family’s business dealings‚ I should

have met the Guptas at my office accompanied‚ as is customary‚ by a finance ministry or national Treasury official.”

Nene in his letter appeals for South Africans to return their faith and trust him.

“I owe you conduct as a public office-bearer that is beyond reproach. But I am human too‚ I do make mistakes‚ including poor judgement.”

He said it was reasonable of the public to expect public office-bearers to own up fully and in good time 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. I therefore failed to live up to those ideals. These visits do cast a shadow on my conduct as a public office-bearer.

“I deeply regret these lapses and beg your forgiveness.”