President Jacob Zuma has been lashed for lack of good leadership as the Hawks pursue an investigation against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, despite an undertaking earlier this year that he would not face any charges.
Zuma flew to Kenya on Thursday as the storm raged over Gordhan. He is set to go to Swaziland for a Southern African Development Community meeting immediately from Kenya, and then head to China for the G20 meeting, where he will spend a week. He will only be back in the country on September 9.
People close to Gordhan say that he was prepared to stand his ground and force the Hawks’ hand to either formally charge him, or leave him alone.
Prominent South Africans such as human rights lawyer Advocate George Bizos, Rivonia Trialist Ahmed Kathrada, former minister Barbara Hogan and businessman Sipho Pityana have come out in support of Gordhan.
Suspicions continued to grow that the longstanding investigation was a witch-hunt aimed at forcing Gordhan to resign, since formal charges were yet to be pressed and Zuma refused to interfere.
Although there were strong views that Gordhan should cooperate with the Hawks and expose their motives, political leaders also said Zuma ought to step in, considering the negative impact the rumpus was having on the economy, which included a plummeting rand.
This week Zuma tried to set the record straight, saying in a statement that he did not have powers to stop any investigation into any individual. He said “the negative effect of these matters on our economy, personal pressure on the individuals affected as well as the heads of institutions, however disturbing, cannot be cause for the president to intervene unconstitutionally”.
However, the ANC-aligned SA Communist Party (SACP) said Zuma gave a “mechanical response” that was “not good enough”. “We know we follow a separation of powers ... but the reality is that, as the head of the country, when another institution collapses the economy, there should be a form and method of engagements,” said Solly Mapaila, second general secretary of the SACP.
Mapaila said Zuma should return to South Africa and give South Africans the assurance that this matter was being attended to, especially in such difficult economic times.
“For us to lose so much money on the basis of his inaction is unacceptable. The textbook explanations are not good enough and I think he has to find a mechanism to reassure the people that the institutions – whether it is the judiciary and everything else, all of them – must comply with the Constitution.”
A provincial ANC leader said Zuma had the capacity to intervene, whereby he could summon the police minister and demand an explanation.
“If there is a legal opinion that the case against Gordhan is winnable, then the minister should inform Zuma.”
Like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said Gordhan should have presented himself to the Hawks and allowed the law to run its course, even if the case against him was a farce.
“I believe that, as a senior member of government, had he complied, he would have done better to dispel the perceptions that he may be running away from the rule of law or that he has something to hide,” Holomisa said.
A national executive committee member of the ANC said Gordhan must clear himself and walk away.
“I have never seen any other comrade who has been subjected to the law like this, getting so much support. Many have in fact been doubted.
“[Gordhan] making this a public spectacle is not assisting the country; it’s not assisting him. He should subject himself to law enforcement agencies so that this chapter can be closed,” the senior party leader said.
He said that what Gordhan was doing was deliberate, as he had been made to believe he deserved to be viewed as untouchable and dignified.
Gordhan had previously met with the SACP after the Hawks had sent him 27 questions to answer. He was also invited to the SACP’s last central committee meeting, where the strategic role of the Treasury was discussed. The idea was to offer him support as he stood firm against the perceived attempt to loot state resources.
“We may not agree with him ideologically, particularly considering the institution he is heading, which is largely neoliberal economically, but we think the people in the Treasury are performing one of the most important patriotic duties – defending the purse of the country,” Mapaila said.
Holomisa said the tension between Gordhan and the Hawks “reeks of political machinations by powerful individuals with vested interests in maintaining corrupt and exploitative arrangements that the minister is threatening”.
EFF leader Julius Malema said the Hawks were instructed to deal with Gordhan’s integrity, which would in turn provide Zuma with a motive to remove him as finance minister. He said the intention was to appoint a minister who would be pliable to Zuma’s benefactors.
A businessman close to several ANC ministers and MPs said the latest assault on Gordhan’s integrity could be linked to uncertainty about whether or not he would provide guarantees for the struggling SAA, which was facing threats of having some of its routes shut down if it failed to present credible financial statements.
He said Gordhan had also threatened to resign if Zuma pressed ahead with the signing of the nuclear power deal, despite Treasury’s view that South Africa could not afford it.
A crime intelligence expert said “the Hawks were being used to clear the way for Zuma and his people to loot [Treasury]”.
He said senior law enforcement officers in the police and in the Hawks had previously asserted that they had been appointed by politicians, therefore they took their orders from politicians.
A KwaZulu-Natal-based ANC Youth League insider said Treasury was investigating Tegeta, a coal company owned by the Guptas, Zuma’s alleged benefactors, which was doing business with Eskom. He said Tegeta was challenging the release of the investigation. “This is a tit-for-tat scenario between Treasury and the presidency using state-owned enterprises and the Hawks with the National Prosecuting Authority as proxies.”
The Guptas’ Oakbay Investments said in a statement yesterday that the company had “done nothing wrong and have followed every policy and process correctly and have no issue with government or a regulatory body reviewing our activity”.
Meanwhile, the Guptas have announced that they are pulling out from all businesses in South Africa.
In a statement yesterday, the family said they would step down from all executive and nonexecutive positions in all their South African businesses.
“As a family, we now believe that the time is right for us to exit our shareholding of the South African businesses that we believe will benefit our existing employees, and lead to further growth in the businesses.
“As such, we announce today our intention to sell all of our shareholding in South Africa by the end of the year.
“We are already in discussions with several international prospective buyers and will soon be in a position to make further announcements,” the Guptas said.