Trying to find the dirt on 'incorruptible' Pravin Gordhan

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Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan famously resisted state capture during the years Jacob Zuma was president.  (Photo by Esa Alexander/Sunday Times/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan famously resisted state capture during the years Jacob Zuma was president. (Photo by Esa Alexander/Sunday Times/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

"We really wanted to test if there was any dirt [on Pravin Gordhan], and we couldn't find any," said co-author Jonathan Ancer during the launch of his and Chris Whitfield's book Joining the Dots: An Unauthorised Biography of Pravin Gordhan.

The book was published by Jonathan Ball.

News24 and the publishers launched the book with a virtual discussion between the authors and Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director Neeshan Balton on 5 October.

"Not one person could fault his integrity," said Ancer. More than one of their interviewees described Gordhan as "incorruptible".

Gordhan, formerly the commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and minister of finance, is now the minister of public enterprises. He famously resisted state capture during the years Jacob Zuma was president, and was fired by Zuma for his pains.

At the memorial service for struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada in 2017, an event from which Zuma was excluded, Gordhan urged South Africans to "join the dots" of corruption and state capture and to expose them. 

It was important that the book was an unauthorised biography, said Ancer, because they really wanted to test the various accusations made against Gordhan – among them, some outrageous claims about Swiss bank accounts and the like made by the EFF, who appeared to have developed a vendetta against Gordhan for reasons as yet unclear.

"It is an unauthorised biography in the sense that, although he cooperated with us, he had no say, no control over the direction of the interviews or the content at all," said Ancer. "He never got to see anything, he couldn't tell us who to interview and not to interview, so it really was an independent project.

"We wanted to tell his story," said Ancer. "A warts and all story" – except they found no warts. The worst they could dig up on Gordhan, from former colleagues in government, was that he was and is a hard taskmaster, and that he expects a high level of service from those he works with.

"I presumed he might have feet of clay," said Whitfield, "but he doesn't."

Ancer and Whitfield are both veteran journalists. Ancer has written books about Craig Williamson, the apartheid-era spymaster, and other spies (on both sides) of the era. Whitfield, who edited various titles in the then-Argus Group of newspapers, later the Independent Group, also co-wrote the book Paper Tiger about Iqbal Survé's takeover of the group.

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