Chilling message

2016-05-24 06:00

ONE aspect of political journalism that many people might not be aware of is the amount of e-mail traffic we go through daily.

Politicians have a lot to say, about anything and everything.

From the early hours of the morning to late at night, e-mails stream in from political parties — this includes national and provincial structures, as well as the youth, women’s and veterans’ formations — on their reactions to current affairs, various leaders’ activities and speeches, as well as their views on other parties’ actions.

There is a constant flood of alerts and statements from government departments on their work, activities of ministers and deputy ministers, and events coming up.

Then there is Parliament, with messages about the work of the committees, the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.

Add to that the constant flow of information from trade unions and federations, as well as civil-society organisations, and it feels like a full-time job just having to read e-mails to keep abreast of everything going on in the political sector.

Since the Presidency nonchalantly announced the removal of Nhlanhla Nene as Finance minister via e-mail on a Wednesday night in December, it has been a lesson for political journalists to not ignore messages, even after hours.

There was one e-mail that popped into my inbox this week that sent a chill down my spine. It was from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, reacting to media reports of his possible arrest by the Hawks in connection with the special investigating unit operating at the South African Revenue Service when he was the commissioner.

This was no ordinary statement from a politician. It was a man in great distress, telling the nation how he feels and pleading for our help.

This was also no off-hand denial of the charges he is under investigation for.

“I cannot believe that I am being investigated and could possibly be charged for something I am completely innocent of. I have answered the questions submitted by the Hawks and have not heard from them,” Gordhan said.

He also said: “The malicious rumours and accusations about ‘espionage’ activities are false and manufactured for other motives. No one should be subjected to the manipulation of the law and agencies for ulterior motives.

“Throughout my 45 years of activism, I have worked for the advancement of the ANC, our Constitution and our democratic government. I would never have thought that individuals within the very agencies of this government would now conspire to intimidate and harass me and my family,” Gordhan said.

It is rare that someone serving in one of the most critical and high-ranking positions in the state would reflect on his own government in this way.

Politicians are prone to hyperbole but throughout his time in government, Gordhan has not been one for reckless and exaggerated comments.

The fact that Gordhan was driven to issue such a statement while there is close scrutiny of the country by international ratings agencies means that he felt he had no option but to take the public into his confidence.

The most startling part of the statement was this: “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. I appeal to all South Africans to protect the national Treasury staff, who have diligently, honestly and skilfully served the national interest to the best of their ability.”

Gordhan’s appeal to the nation to protect Treasury staff means he believes they are politically vulnerable.

The question to be asked is why they are not being protected by the leadership of the state and the ANC.

There is a lot of hot air in our politics. But Gordhan’s warning of a “subversion of democracy” cannot be treated lightly.

If there is a sinister agenda to hijack the national Treasury, we cannot be caught off-guard.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

Throughout my 45 years of activism, I have worked for the advancement of the ANC, our Constitution and our democratic government. I would never have thought that individuals within the very agencies of this government would now conspire to intimidate and harass me and my family

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