POLITICS

Pravin Gordhan, Al Pacino And Johnny Cash: Into The Light

The minister of finance is not backing off from the assault by the Guptas and others in their apparent attempts to capture Treasury.

31/01/2017 11:20 SAST | Updated 31/01/2017 22:27 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
South Africa's Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas (R) arrives with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for Gordhan's 2016 Budget address in Cape Town in this February 24, 2016 file photo.

ANALYSIS

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Al Pacino, as a football coach, in "Any Given Sunday" (1999): "We're in hell right now gentlemen, believe me, and we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us, or, we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell, one inch at a time."

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Johnny Cash, "God's Gonna Cut You Down" (traditional folk song) from the album American V: A Hundred Highways (2006): "Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand / Workin' in the dark against your fellow man / But as sure as God made black and white / What's done in the dark will be brought to the light."

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Pravin Gordhan has always fought his battles in the light.

As a young pharmacist form Durban who earned his qualification the hard way, he joined the struggle against apartheid and was detained and tortured for his beliefs.

When he was chairperson of Codesa's management committee he often challenged his struggle colleagues when negotiations stalled.

And as minister of finance, he is directing Treasury's operations from its Pretoria battlements, defending the institution against offensives from state capturers.

Treasury is a world-class institution, staffed with some of the best minds and with superior knowledge about sound and sober management of the fiscus and public finance – largely independent from political vanity and fickleness.

The "systematic and highly organised" assault on Treasury is the singular most important site of political and ideological struggle in South Africa today. And Treasury's headquarters are at 40 Church Square in Pretoria, a regal old sandstone building on the right flank of the Palace of Justice, the most contested terrain in the republic.

The stakes in this battle are enormous. Treasury is a world-class institution, staffed with some of the best minds and with superior knowledge about sound and sober management of the fiscus and public finance –- largely independent from political vanity and fickleness. It has built up a reputation (which it guards jealously) as the guarantor of South Africa's financial integrity, and who, in concert with the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS), has ensured sustained stability.

It is also this institution that has over the last couple of years taken a stronger stance against corruption and wasteful expenditure. The establishment of the office of the chief state procurement officer was an attempt to prevent corruption on an industrial scale, under which state owned enterprises like Transnet and the SAA have increasingly suffered –- and which has as its next target Eskom and the proposed nuclear build.

This campaign entails efforts to discredit Gordhan and present Treasury as an impediment to economic transformation and the promotion of black business.

Gordhan is the bulwark between the constitutionalists (those who believe in the rule of law) and the state capturers (rentseekers who want to gut the public purse for their own and narrow ends).

In his court papers –- those that were filed on Monday and previously –- Gordhan showed he doesn't shirk from calling out the Gupta family for their leading role in efforts to subdue him and Treasury, saying they and their surrogates are waging a "systematic and highly organised campaign".

This campaign entails efforts to discredit Gordhan and present Treasury as an impediment to economic transformation and the promotion of black business. This message has been uniform and has been carried far and wide by the Guptas' news outlets (The New Age and ANN7), organisations like the African National Congress' youth and women's leagues and on social media by individuals like Mzwanele Manyi and Andile Mngxitama.

Gordhan and his leadership group at Treasury however is not going to budge. There is a clear realisation there that their fight is one that will probably be the decisive conflict that will shape South Africa for decades to come and will prove to be the difference between South Africa becoming a gangster state and one governed by the rule of law.

In his court papers, Gordhan says Oakbay has characterised itself (and, by inference, the Guptas) as having strong political links that cannot simply be ignored.

"In the light of Oakbay's political connections and recent South African history relating to appointments of ministers of finance, there is simply no comparison between facts of this case and 'companies and constituents in South Africa, and indeed the world over, that routinely approaching their governments'. Inertia on my part, the response Oakbay now contends would have been appropriate, was no option in the circumstances."

I clearly have an interest in it (the application for a declaratory order). I am the minister of finance. I am responsible for the wellbeing of the financial sectorPravin Gordhan

The minister will not back off, even amidst the chatter that President Jacob Zuma –- by whom he was reluctantly appointed –- is preparing to replace him by nuclear advocate and pliant Brian Molefe, who the public protector found was extremely close to Atul Gupta, the family's patriarch.

He unequivocally states: "I clearly have an interest in it [the application for a declaratory order]. I am the minister of finance. I am responsible for the wellbeing of the financial sector and my unauthorised interference in the banking sector prejudices the economy."

Pieter du Toit
The Guptas are waging a "systematic and highly organised campaign" against Pravin Gordhan, Treasury and others.

Business, too, understands the importance of the clash. Gordhan says that during a meeting business leaders –- which included some of the country's biggest industrial titans –- engaged him about the need to build confidence in government economic policy and the enabling environment, but significantly, they were concerned about "the authority of the minister to make tough decisions".

When Treasury sent out a statement on behalf of Gordhan on May 17, 2016 it was a turning point in the covert war between itself and state capturers. In it, Gordhan speaks about the personal toll the Hawks' harassment of him had taken on his family –- and he asks the public to protect him and Treasury staff who have "diligently, honestly and skillfully served the national interest".

It is extraordinary that a finance minister had to resort to a public call such as that.

These court papers show the fight is far from over, but that it will be decided in the light.