JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday criticised the corruption that has damaged the ruling party under President Jacob Zuma, opening a divide in the African National Congress months ahead of a leadership contest.
When the ANC picks Zuma's successor in December, unionist-turned-business tycoon Ramaphosa is expected to face off against veteran politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former African Union chairwoman and Zuma's ex-wife.
Ramaphosa is viewed as more investor friendly and has pledged to fight the corruption that has plagued Zuma's tenure. Dlamini-Zuma appeals to ANC grassroots and has the support of Zuma's well-established patronage network.
Zuma's business friends, the Guptas, have been accused by ANC politicians and the opposition of using their close relationship with Zuma and his allies to influence the awarding of government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Guptas, Indian-born South Africans, and Zuma deny wrongdoing.
Local media last month, citing leaked emails from Gupta-controlled companies, said millions of dollars of state-funds were diverted in 2013 to pay for a four-day Gupta family wedding at the luxury Sun City resort outside Johannesburg.
Zuma has said that a flurry of media reports in the last six weeks based on a massive leak of emails from Gupta companies are speculation. In his strongest statement to date against the Guptas, Ramaphosa disagreed with his boss.
"We know that we as tax payers of this country paid for a lavish wedding that took place in Sun City," Ramaphosa told members of the South African Communist Party, which has called for Zuma to step down over a string of corruption scandals.
"We also know that these are resources that rightly belong to the people of South Africa. Should we remain quiet when all this happens? I am one of those who will not remain quiet."
Ramaphosa called for a judicial inquiry into what is known locally as "state-capture" because of allegations that many parts of the government are involved.
A Gupta family spokesman and a Zuma's spokesman did not respond to request for comment.
London-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger apologised last week and said it had suspended a partner after it was accused of stirring racial tensions in a PR campaign it ran while working for the Guptas.
Bell Pottinger ended their relationship with Gupta-owned Oakbay in April.
In its advice to Zuma's son Duduzane, director of a Gupta company, Bell Pottinger stressed the need to highlight the "existence of economic apartheid".
This preceded Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma's supporters publicly saying that "state capture" investigations should focus on white-owned businesses and attacked their opponents in the ANC as being agents of "white monopoly capital".
Ramaphosa hit back on Wednesday.
"It is a matter of grave concern that a public relations company from outside of our country was able to so effectively poison the political discourse in our country," he said.
Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Richard Balmforth