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South African investigator questions Zuma for last time

FILE - In this June 7, 2016 file photo, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela addresses journalists in Johannesburg. Madonsela, whose report on spending irregularities at President Jacob Zuma's home galvanized public anger over alleged government graft, leaves her post this month. (AP Photo/Stuart Graham, File)
October 06, 2016 - 11:26 AM

JOHANNESBURG - A South African investigator who reported on a spending scandal that seriously weakened President Jacob Zuma is rushing to complete another investigation involving the president's conduct, just one week before she leaves her post.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, head of South Africa's state watchdog agency, has been widely praised for her probe into more than $20 million in state spending on Zuma's home. That case went to the constitutional Court, and Zuma eventually was instructed to pay back more than $500,000 for security upgrades.

Madonsela met Zuma for four hours on Thursday as part of a separate, preliminary investigation into whether the Guptas, an Indian immigrant family with close ties to the president, sought to influence the selection of some Cabinet minister picks, the News24 media outlet reported.

Zuma, who has denied allegations of wrongdoing, argued that the matter should be handed to Madonsela's successor because there isn't enough time to conclude the investigation, News24 said, citing a statement from Madonsela. Zuma agreed to answer questions in an affidavit, it said.

Zuma has appointed lawyer Busisiwe Mkhwebane to replace Madonsela on Oct. 15. The new public protector has yet to comment on the alleged meddling in Cabinet selections, a scandal that raised concern about transparency in government and the economy.

Madonsela encouraged her staff at a farewell event in her honour Wednesday, saying: "I am certain that the next public protector is going to take this team to the next level."

The scandals swirling around Zuma stoked public anger and contributed to the election losses this year of Johannesburg and other key municipalities that had been held by the ruling African National Congress party since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Madonsela faced harsh criticism from ruling party factions after the release of her 2014 report that said Zuma benefited inappropriately from state spending on his home, and anonymous accusations that she is a CIA spy have persisted until recently. The CIA has declined to comment. Her supporters say she has been the target of a smear campaign.

Yet South Africa's ruling party, often made uncomfortable by Madonsela's inquiries, had kind words for her at the farewell event.

"You also, in a number of occasions, saved us from ourselves," said Gwede Mantashe, the party's secretary general.

Madonsela, a former high school teacher and human rights lawyer with a calm demeanour, worked in the trade union movement during the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s and helped draft South Africa's constitution after the end of white rule.

Recently, she waded into the tense national debate over student protests for free education that have shut some universities. Madonsela said the standoff posed a threat to South African democracy and appealed for dialogue to resolve it.

In 2014, she spoke about her report on Zuma's home spending to students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"We get the society we deserve. We create the societies we live in," she said. "We can't point fingers at anyone and say they are responsible for our fate."

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Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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