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South Africa's Jacob Zuma fires top ministers

image captionSacked government minister Sicelo Shiceka denies abusing taxpayers' money

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has fired two government ministers implicated in corruption scandals.

Mr Zuma sacked Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka - accused of unauthorised spending - and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

The president also suspended police chief Bheki Cele, who - along with Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde - was implicated in alleged unlawful property deals.

All three have denied doing anything illegal.

South Africa's ombudsman, appointed to investigate complaints against government officials, had called on Mr Zuma to act against them.

'Inflated prices'

Thuli Madonsela - the ombudsman known in South Africa as the public protector - found that Mr Shiceka had spent more than $68,000 (£42,000) of government money on unauthorised luxury travel and hotel bills.

This included visits to a girlfriend jailed in Switzerland for drug smuggling.

image captionPolice chief Gen Bheki Cele is a powerful ally of President Jacob Zuma

In a report released last month, Ms Madonsela said Mr Shiceka's actions were .

She also accused him of travelling to neighbouring Lesotho while on sick leave at taxpayers' expense under a fake name.

"Shiceka ... required of the department to make a fraudulent misrepresentation to a hotel in a foreign country," she said.

At the time, Mr Shiceka rejected her findings as "baseless" and vowed to clear his name in court.

He justified some of his hotel bills by saying his ministerial home had been infected with mosquitoes.

In a separate investigation, Ms Madonsela ruled that Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Gen Cele - a powerful ally of Mr Zuma - had authorised multi-million dollar property deals that saw police buildings being leased from a company at inflated prices.

Mr Zuma said Gen Cele would be suspended on full pay, pending an inquiry into the property deals.

The inquiry would be headed by former Constitutional Court judge Yvonne Mokgoro, the president said.

Election implications

Ms Madonsela investigated leases for buildings intended to serve as police headquarters in the capital, Pretoria, and the eastern city of Durban.

The 10-year leases were signed with Roux Property Fund, owned by Roux Shabangu, a businessman who is well connected in government circles.

She did not find evidence of criminality, but the deals were "illegitimate" and "unlawful", Ms Madonsela said in her report.

Analysts say Mr Zuma acted against the three in a bid to quell criticism from the opposition that he is soft on corruption.

His decision will, however, increase tension in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in the build-up to leadership elections due next year, analysts say.

Mr Zuma's bid for re-election is being opposed by the powerful ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, who accuses Mr Zuma of neglecting the interests of the poor.

Mr Shiceka, Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Gen Cele are now likely to throw their weight behind Mr Zuma's rivals, analysts say.

Gen Cele played a key role in Mr Zuma's hard-fought campaign to be elected president in 2009.

Mr Zuma also appointed three judges to investigate South Africa's 1999 arms deal that has been surrounded with corruption allegations.

He had announced last month that an inquiry into the controversial deal would be re-opened following new developments.

Andrew Feinstein, a former member of parliament for the ANC, who led an earlier official probe into the arms deal, said the terms of reference for the new commission were "critical".

"They must include all aspects of the deal and allow an investigation of all aspects of corruption, including the role of the ANC, [South Africa's former President] Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, as well as the cover-up that has hidden these issues for so many years," he told the BBC.

Mr Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabr Shaik, was convicted in 2005 of taking bribes from an arms company.

Similar charges against Mr Zuma were dropped in 2009.

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