Wearing our brains on our sleeve.
21 September 2017 14:17 (South Africa)
South Africa

Gordhan 'arrest': Whispers in the deep, days of dangerous rumours, threat and innuendo

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa
Photo: President Jacob Zuma (GCIS)

South Africans woke to the alarming news on Sunday that the country’s Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan – he who has just helped us avoid a Moody’s downgrade – was about to be arrested by the Hawks and charged with “espionage” in relation to the SARS “rogue unit” saga. By sunset the Presidency had denied the reports, blaming “information peddlers”. In these politically brittle times, where the forces that surround and protect President Jacob Zuma have regrouped and the security cluster is driving the narrative, it is precisely this type of rumour and innuendo that feeds an atmosphere of political instability, fear and loathing. But who does it benefit and what’s with all the smoke and mirrors? By MARIANNE THAMM.

On Sunday afternoon, Ivan Pillay, former deputy Commissioner of SARS and one of those listed in the Sunday Times report about the apparent imminent arrest by the Hawks of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and about eight other suspects, issued a statement saying he had not received any formal notification of criminal proceedings against him by any law enforcement agency.

In March this year the Ministers of State Security and Police confirmed to the media that the SARS Commissioner [Tom Moyane] had instituted a criminal complaint against me and other SARS officials in May 2015, after I had reached settlement and resigned from SARS. The explicit condition of the settlement agreement with SARS was that ‘the parting of ways is mutually beneficial’. In a media statement, announcing my resignation on 7 May 2015, SARS stated: ‘All SARS initiated charges and related investigations have been withdrawn’,” Pillay said on Sunday.

In other words, if you come for me or us now it will all be revealed as a purely political act.

But, Pillay said, it seemed that the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation, or the Hawks, as well as the NPA had indeed been pursuing a criminal investigation against Gordhan (who was ordered by the Hawks just days before delivering his budget speech in February to answer 27 questions) as well as other purged senior SARS staff after Moyane’s (an ally of President Zuma) complaint.

It’s just that no one had yet pounced, perhaps waiting for the right moment in the current unspooling of an unpredictable political endgame. Perhaps the exposure of these “rumours” on Sunday are just a dress rehearsal for the real thing, a testing of the waters to gauge how markets might respond (Nene’s sacking cost the economy R169-billion). For now, no one seems sure of why the ominous reports of the arrest of Gordhan have surfaced at this specific juncture.

No 1’s BFFs, the Guptas, are still sucking at dry financial taps in South Africa as local banks have not budged on their decision to close the family’s accounts.

The Sunday Times reported that Gordhan would soon be arrested, to be replaced by Eskom CEO Brian Molefe in a Cabinet reshuffle and that Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas would be replaced with MP Sfiso Buthelezi who had been secreted into the National Assembly in March this year.

In February this year Molefe said he had been surprised by Treasury’s request to investigate coal supply contracts to determine if there had been any improper procurement procedures (relating to businesses owned by the Gupta family). He also said the Gupta family were just like “the Ruperts and the Oppenheimers” and that these families all tried to “influence” government.

This was just the way things were, said Molefe.

Pillay on Sunday said that he had offered his full assistance with any investigation into any SARS matter and that he had, for the past two years, “emphatically denied that SARS operated a ‘rogue’ intelligence unit within its enforcement divisions that contravened the laws of our country.”

And then he signed off, “It is apparent that, for those driving this prosecution, there is one principal objective – to remove and punish those who are seen to stand in their way. Clearly, there is no consideration for the consequences – politically or economically – of such actions on our country.”

He did not identify who exactly was headed where on this path that was being obstructed but it has something to do with the country’s national purse and who pulls the strings, of course. Gordhan is an unexpected return player to the field having sat it out in the benches of the Ministry of Co-operative Governance before being parachuted back into Treasury after Nenegate in December.

He is clearly a marked man.

Coincidentally, Pillay happened to be the guest speaker at the opening of a photographic exhibition, “Promises and Lies – The ANC in Exile” at the Centre for Curating the Archive at the University of Cape Town on Thursday.

The photographs by Laurie Sparham were curated by Dr Siona O’Connell, director of the centre and the reason for their being displayed here and now was because “like 2016, the years 1989-1990 marked a turning point in South Africa. These photographs of the ANC during that period offer an opportunity to think about lives in exile, the growing chasm between the promise of freedom then, and the reality of a contemporary moment sparked by crisis and failure.”

Pillay generally keeps a low profile publicly, seldom speaking directly to media. When he does it is usually through a formal written statement. But on Thursday he spoke without notes to a packed audience in the gallery and under the gaze of a photograph of a very young, bearded and smiling Jacob Zuma before he turned into No 1.

Pillay, who was an integral part of Operation Vula (which included Mac Maharaj, Pravin Gordhan, Mo and Yunis Shaik and Jacob Zuma) said that while the exhibition had brought back memories he needed to update his biography to include most recent events.

Just in case you want to know. I used to work for the South African Revenue Service (laughter) and I just lost my job. We won’t say more about that. But what I do want to say is that this has happened to a number of other people such as Robert McBride, also a member of MK... He heads IPID, he is suspended and so are maybe six or seven of his colleagues. Then there is Anwa Dramat, he headed the Hawks, he is here from Cape Town and I think he spent some years on Robben Island, he was also suspended and he left,” said Pillay.

And then there was Denel CEO Riaz Saloojee who “was told a month or two ago that he was no longer required, ‘no fault with you but you are no longer required’.

And there is a pattern of activity here. Usually you get a smear campaign in which some journalists are too happy to play along. And then you get the feigned surprise from the institution. Then you get the suspension. Then you get the threatened labour charges, and the disciplinary process and then you get maybe some sort of settlement and then you get criminal charges. A person like Anwa Dramat has been charged criminally and so has Robert and rumour has it so will I. That brings the biography to the present,” said Pillay.

Pillay said that it appeared as if 20 years after freedom people were opening up about their experiences in exile with the ANC, a reference to two recently published sensational memoirs by former MK members, Amin Cajee’s Fordsburg Fighter, and Stanley Manong’s If We Must Die.

Cajee reveals widespread corruption in ANC camps in Tanzania and paints a deeply unflattering portrait of Joe Modise as a man so corrupt and pumped with self-importance that he orders ordinary foot soldiers to polish his boots and hold a glass of water for him to drink.

Manong tells of his encounter in 1977 with a young Jacob Zuma in South Western Mozambique. Manong had managed to save about R500 before going into exile, three times the monthly salary of a black teacher with a university degree. He writes:

Jacob Zuma, who received us from the Mozambican side of the border... collected all the money we had in our possession, probably on the instructions of the ANC in Swaziland, under the pretence that they were intending to change the money into Mozambican Escudos, which was the prevailing currency at the time. The five hundred rands I had in my possession was taken away from me, to my dismay. Others suffered the same fate.”

The money was never returned.

Pillay on Thursday intimated that the ANC in exile had been compartmentalised and that some, who remained unnamed, had been corrupted while others, like McBride whom he singled out, had been meticulous about accounting for funds. Pillay said he too had had a “wonderful” experience in exile.

McBride told me that every rand that was given to him by the ANC, he took the receipts back to Swaziland or Botswana or where he went and that is the ANC he worked for,” said Pillay.

All this being morse code for “and here we are some 20 years later with one faction of the ANC, those who loved money more than the struggle, apparently in control”.

I don’t understand what I see around me,” said Pillay.

He said today he witnessed the country “backsliding” into tribalism, homophobia, patriarchy and xenophobia.

We are in for a rough ride for the next while.”

Meanwhile, DA Shadow Minster of Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier, said that arresting the country’s finance minister “would be a disaster for South Africa that could cause an economic earthquake and make 9/12 (Nenegate) look like a minor economic tremor”.

What was worrying, added Maynier, was that authorities were reportedly waiting for the “political go-ahead” before ordering the arrest of Gordhan which suggested that the investigation was politically motivated and “part of Zuma’s fightback campaign and attempt to neuter the National Treasury.”

For now the Presidency, through spokesperson Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, has reassured the country that “President Zuma and the whole of government are focused on the goal of reigniting economic growth, preserving existing jobs and creating more jobs through working together with business and labour. A lot of progress is being made in this regard as was seen in the outcomes of the meeting convened by President Zuma last week.”

And then the reassurance that “there were no plans to change the Minister of Finance” (maybe we just wanted to rattle him a little bit). And so the sun set on yet another disturbing day in the country’s unfolding political tragedy. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (GCIS)

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa

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