FIRST TAKE: Busisiwe Mkhwebane goes for broke on Pravin Gordhan

Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Phill Magakoe/ The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images, file)
Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Phill Magakoe/ The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images, file)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has dealt Pravin Gordhan, the public enterprises minister and staunch ally of President Cyril Rampahosa a legal (and political) hammer blow.

It is undeniable that Ramaphosa can no longer take a back seat and wait for court findings. He will have to act or face an internal revolt in the ANC over his failure to treat Gordhan as he has treated Zuma loyalists who also face serious allegations of maladministration and corruption.

The sheer weight of her findings against Gordhan, in a report released on Friday, are enough to drown him and former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay in a sea of litigation for the foreseeable future.

She found Gordhan violated the Constitution for the establishment of a covert intelligence unit, deliberately misled parliament when he failed to disclose a brief encounter with Ajay Gupta – amongst other findings that are seemingly added to bolster her report.

At first glance, the report is designed to deal a death blow to the ongoing occupation of a ministerial post by Gordhan.

There are a host of recommendations for further investigations by the Hawks and tight deadlines of 30 and 60 days for action to be taken.

The findings and allegations contained in the report will no doubt be dissected in the coming hours and days and the merits thereof will be tested.

For now, it is clear that Mkhwebane has delved headlong into the swamp that is factional politics under a protective mantle of Constitutionalism.

Early indications are the actual members of the unit were not given a chance to tell their side of the story.

Mkhwebane's investigation into issues surrounding an allegedly covert intelligence unit at SARS, established in 2007, marks investigation number 10 into the matter (yes, ten) – including two by the State Security Agency.

She has found Gordhan and Pillay guilty of almost everything except stealing from their mother’s purses in relation to their respective tenures at SARS.

Mkhwebane even ventured into the realm of Project Sunday Evenings, a matter that is before the Pretoria High Court with Pillay and former SARS enforcement executives Johann van Loggerenberg and Andries Janse van Rensburg facing charges relating to the mysterious project.

Sunday Evenings relates to the planting of covert bugs at the offices of the NPA and now defunct Scorpions in 2007.

Prosecutors have evidently decided they agree, having pushed ahead with the charges in 2018. Why Mkhwebane felt it necessary to wade in on a matter that is already before court (and then get it all wrong) is surprising.

The most surprising part of the report early doors, is the heavy reliance on disputed sources.

The Sikhakhane Panel Report, for one, which has been extensively refuted by the implicated former SARS officials.  There is also a document called "the Gene Ravele Dossier".

Gene Ravele was a former enforcement executive at SARS that called the allegations surrounding the so-called rogue unit "hogwash" during testimony before the Nugent Commission of Inquiry.

Mkhwebane refers to "evidence before her" quite often in the report, without actually explaining what that evidence is.

So now we are left with a 122-page report to discuss and examine in minute detail, while Gordhan and Pillay gear up for legal warfare.

Very little makes sense about Mkhwebane’s decision to prioritize these anonymous complaints relating to matters that have long been topics of intense discussion and speculation.

The "rogue unit" saga has claimed many careers, and destroyed lives, none more so than the members of that very unit that Mkhwebane did not interview.

But, nevertheless, Mkhwebane has made her bed, and must now sleep in it. And pray that she has the evidence to back up her findings.

She claims she does.

Gordhan, on the other hand, must decide if he has the appetite, patience and money to fight this onslaught in court.

It would appear that he does.

The article has been amended since publication. 

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