Thuli Madonsela, who heads South Africa’s watchdog on government misconduct, said she had received complaints about the relationship between Zuma, who leads the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, and the wealthy Gupta family, but had so far been unable to launch an inquiry. South Africa’s public protector called for extra resources to allow her to investigate allegations of improper use of influence levelled at a major business family and President Jacob Zuma.

“Yes, we have been asked to investigate ‘state capture’ by the Gupta family, specifically whether or not the government of South Africa and specifically the president unlawfully allowed the Gupta family to choose ministers and other occupants of high office,” Madonsela told journalists in Johannesburg.

Related: Jacob Zuma denies influence of wealthy Gupta family in South African cabinet

The investigation would also look at whether state contracts and licences were awarded improperly, she said. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny all allegations of wrongdoing.

Madonsela said her office did not have sufficient resources to investigate the claims and had yet to receive a government response to a request for further funding. “It is a huge investigation but … we need just 3m rand (£140,000) as seed money. We can do it economically,” the former advocate and activist told the Guardian.

The controversy around the Guptas took a dramatic turn in March when the deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, issued a public statement claiming he had been offered the post of finance minister by the family after the respected incumbent resigned.

Zuma denied Jonas’s claims, saying only the president appointed ministers, as per the constitution. The Guptas, who run dozens of companies employing thousands of people, said the allegation was “totally false” and “just more political point scoring between rival factions” within the ANC.

In March, the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, a powerful figure in the ruling party, was reported as saying that the “ANC is not for sale”.

“The ANC refuses to be captured. Those who might want to capture the ANC and make it their own and influence it to advance personal or corporate interests, you have come to the wrong address,” he was quoted by the Rand Daily Mail as saying at an academic summit in Johannesburg.

Madonsela angered many within the ANC when she accused Zuma of conduct “inconsistent with his office” and violating the executive ethics code by failing to protect state resources by spending public funds on his private home in KwaZulu-Natal.

Related: Public discontent rises as Jacob Zuma’s ship sinks in South Africa

In a 2014 report, the public protector described how 246m rand of taxpayers’ money had turned Zuma’s house into a display of “opulence on a grand scale” amid a sea of poverty. The report led to a power struggle after Zuma refused to accept the 400-page report’s findings.

Madonsela was vindicated in March when the constitutional court, the country’s highest court, said the president had breached the constitution by ignoring her recommendation that he repay some of the money.

Judges described Madonsela – who during her time in the role has faced death threats and allegations that she is a CIA spy – as “the embodiment of a biblical David who fights the very well resourced Goliath that [is] the impropriety of government officials”.

Commenting on her near seven years as public protector, Mandosela said “the politics had been the most challenging” aspect.

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