South Africa questions candidates to replace corruption official who vexed Zuma

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's parliament on Thursday began interviewing candidates to replace Thuli Madonsela, the head of a corruption watchdog whose findings undermined support for President Jacob Zuma and his administration and worried investors. Appointed by Zuma in 2009 for a seven-year, non-renewable term, Madonsela investigated several scandals involving Zuma which contributed to a sharp loss in support for the ruling party African National Congress in local elections last week. Among the 14 candidates shortlisted to replace Madonsela in the role of Public Protector are two judges, several lawyers, as well as the current deputy national director of public prosecutions. All would were due to be questioned by lawmakers on Thursday. The Public Protector has a constitutional mandate to probe misconduct and abuse in state affairs. It was not clear when a new candidate to replace Madonsela would be named but her term ends in October. The scandals investigated by Madonsela have worried investors in Africa's most industrialized country, who feared it could lead to instability. In one of her most high-impact investigations in 2014, Madonsela found Zuma had included in a $16 million "security upgrade" to his rural Nkandla home a raft of non-security items including a swimming pool and amphitheatre. She said Zuma should pay back the cost of those items, and her view was supported in March by South Africa's highest court, which said Zuma had broken the law by ignoring Madonsela's order. Zuma, who survived an impeachment vote in April after the court ruling, has since said he will repay some of the money, as ordered by the court. Madonsela has said she is investigating whether Zuma allowed a wealthy business family, the Gupta family, to decide on cabinet appointments. Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations made by the opposition. South Africa ranked 61st out of 168 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2015, which measures public sector corruption. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia and Raissa Kasolowsky)