Gordhan Watch

Will state security smoke and mirrors clear?

Pravin Gordhan
Pravin two.jpeg

When senior crime fighters and a respected minister are maligned in public, even falsely, on highly controversial issues, something serious is amiss.

A ‘must read’ for any concerned South African is the recent statement by three senior officials ousted from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

Corruption and ‘state capture’  

The statement, co-authored by the former acting commissioner of Sars, Ivan Pillay, suspended head of Ipid, Robert McBride, and Anwa Dramat, former Hawks boss, is a further alarming confirmation of the accelerating decline of the South African state and many of its institutions under the Zuma presidency – the consequence of unrestrained corruption and ‘state capture’ at all levels.

Facing criminal charges, the trio claim their removal was not only deliberate, calculated and well-orchestrated, but stemmed from their commitment to fight and expose corruption (“the biggest threat to our constitutional democracy”) without fear or favour.

They spelled out in detail how there appeared to be a repeating pattern of government officials being removed from their positions using some particular modus operandi – including baseless allegations, media ‘leaks’ to distort facts, witch hunts, staged investigations, suspensions and court cases.

The intent of these machinations is simple: to hound officials committed to clean government out of office to allow for the unchecked continuance of ‘state capture’ and the plunder of state assets, they claimed.

Validating their claims, they expressed the belief that they, “... were being maliciously prosecuted and hounded because we were investigating sensitive cases involving individuals or entities with questionable relationships to those in public office”.

Expanding on their claim they asserted: “It appears that the pattern of questionable processes has also been applied to the recent interactions of the Hawks with the Minister of Finance.”

In conclusion the three officials made an appeal, “... on those in business, civil society, organised labour, NGOs and the general public who value and want to defend our constitutional democracy, to assist our efforts with legal advice and expertise and legal and financial resources”.

Dramatic move

Then, in a dramatic move that caught the imagination of the country, their appeal was followed by an even more extraordinary and unprecedented one by the man on whose shoulders rests the unenviable task of saving the South African economy from the threatening doom triggered by President Zuma and his shady circle of associates who are exerting undue influence on the state.  

Concern is mounting that the rating agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, currently on an assessment visit in the country, might release a negative report in early June.  

A credit downgrade to junk status, now a real possibility, will have devastating consequences. The aftershocks will be felt years after Mr Zuma has disappeared from the scene – whenever for whatever reason, retirement or otherwise.

The long-term consequences of a junk label would, according to some respected commentators, make the Nenegate blunder, “look like child’s play”.

Nenegate cost the country R500 billion and knocked R95 billion off the Government Employees Pension Fund. The Unemployment Insurance Fund lost R7 billion and the Compensation Fund R3 billion.

Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma ordinary South Africans witnessed bizarre and baffling events and occurrences in the country’s political arena. They vary from violence in parliament, as a bemused president (the reason for the violence) sheepishly looks on, to a highly efficient minister unceremoniously dumped by the same president and replaced on the critical finance portfolio with an unknown parliamentary backbencher

Then, most South Africans were stunned by the news that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is under investigation and could be arrested on charges of espionage.

The charge is incomprehensible because the accusation of espionage is apparently linked to the establishment in 2009 of a so-called ‘spy unit in Sars at the time when Gordhan was commissioner.

It is the same ‘spy-unit’ and the successes it had in exposing illicit business activities and tax evasion by crime bosses with political ‘connections’ that contributed to the downfall of Ivan Pillay.

In an ironic twist of fate, Mr Zuma himself could also be tarnished by the ‘spy-unit’ saga should Gordhan be charged.

According to media reports, Zuma, then still deputy president, was present at a high-level meeting of senior securocrats in 2001 where the restructuring of the state intelligence services and cooperation between various agencies, including Sars, were discussed. At this meeting the establishment of an investigative (spy) unit at Sars was allegedly discussed and approved.    

Responding to rumours that he was about to be arrested, denied by the Hawks, the NPA and the Presidency describing it as “irresponsible information peddling”, minister Gordhan nevertheless made an unusual plea to the South African public.

Also read: ANC state capture – SA in very serious trouble

Adding insult to injury, the media reported that it was a Gupta, Ajay, back in South Africa recently to deal with the notorious family’s troubled business empire, who allegedly informed people that the Hawks would soon be making a number of arrests in connection with the Sars spy unit.

But that was not all.

Ajay also disclosed that Eskom chief executive officer Brian Molefe would be appointed in the place of Gordhan, while Member of Parliament Sfiso Buthelezi, who resigned from his business interests two months ago to join the ANC caucus, would become Molefe’s deputy.

Emotional plea

Against this background the beleaguered finance minister pleaded with South Africans to “protect the National Treasury staff” and added that, “it is particularly painful to me, and I’m sure to many earnest democrats, to witness this unrestrained attack on honest and hardworking people and the institutions meant to strengthen our democracy. Millions of people will pay the price (there will be less money to relieve poverty and support job creation programmes) if this subversion of democracy is left unrestrained and unchallenged”.

South African, businesses, NGOs, churches and civil society organisations responded overwhelming positive to, and supportive of, Minister Gordhan’s plea.

Staring down the barrel

A country and a nation is staring down the barrel of potential high drama and catastrophe when a respected key cabinet minister and senior law enforcement officials have to appeal to the public for support and protection from the government and the very president that appointed them. 

In an editorial The Times responded to the question, “Is the latest attack on Gordhan merely coincidence?”  It tellingly observed, “In many countries, deliberately collapsing a currency or ruining an economy for narrow economic or political ends would be regarded as economic sabotage”.

On this account the minister of finance cannot be charged, but the same cannot be said of others he works or shares a past history with.

by Garth Cilliers

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