Under-fire South African president Jacob Zuma ‘falls asleep’ during budget speech

Mr Zuma’s office has not yet commented on the reports

Adam Withnall
Africa Correspondent
Thursday 27 October 2016 15:07 BST
President Jacob Zuma listens to finance minister Pravin Gordhan deliver South Africa's mini-budget on 26 October 2016
President Jacob Zuma listens to finance minister Pravin Gordhan deliver South Africa's mini-budget on 26 October 2016 (YouTube/SA Parliament)

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has for months been at the centre of a corruption inquiry which has seen him bat away calls to resign, even from his own party.

So it was likely a moment of relief for the president when all eyes turned to his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who presented a much anticipated budget statement in parliament on Wednesday.

But it seems there is nothing Mr Zuma can do to keep out of the headlines, as cameras filming the delivery of the minister’s lengthy statement appeared to show the president falling asleep.

That was the interpretation of many South African media, at least, though some quickly offered up a range of suggestions as to why the president might have appeared to have his eyes closed.

A recording of the session has been posted on the South African parliament’s YouTube channel, and Mr Zuma can be seen slumped to one side at around one hour 13 minutes in.

At the one hour 15-minute point, Mr Zuma is back up, rubbing his eyes, apparently roused by applause in the house for Mr Gordhan’s statement that public officials must be free from corruption.

Mr Zuma’s office has not yet commented on the reports, and the 74-year-old’s apparent moment of weakness has been met with amusement rather than outrage in South Africa.

It is also not the first time African heads of state have been caught napping at public events - Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has been photographed or filmed resting his eyes on a number of occasions.

More worrying for Mr Zuma will be the report by South Africa’s corruption watchdog, already overdue for release, that is set to implicate the president in allegations of possible undue influence of his friends.

Mr Zuma will have a hearing on 1 November to decide whether he has been given enough of an opportunity to respond to the suggestion he allowed an Indian-born business family to interfere in state affairs.

Meanwhile, finance minister Mr Gordhan is himself facing corruption charges.

One day after Mr Zuma, he will have his own court hearing to answer claims he fraudulently approved the early retirement of a deputy tax commissioner before re-hiring him as a consultant.

The alleged move, in Mr Gordhan’s pervious role as head of the revenue service, is claimed to have cost the tax agency 1.1 million rand ($79,000).

He has denied any wrongdoing, saying the case is politically motivated. Some analysts say Mr Zuma's allies are driving the investigation in a bid to oust Mr Gordhan, something the president has denied.

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