The Hawks, the police’s special investigative unit, have accused the SA Communist Party of “peddling information” to undermine its controversial boss. Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, was reacting to an SACP statement on Wednesday in support of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
The statement accused Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza of using the elite unit to pursue a political agenda to “isolate and target” Gordhan.
The party claimed a private conversation in which Ntlemeza confessed that going after communists was his “new mandate”, had been overheard by a senior party member.
“We know there are a lot of people who are trying to peddle information to undermine the national head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks),” Mulaudzi said.
“Any investigation that is being undertaken, we have taken a decision that we won’t do that through the media,” he said.
“Even ourselves were shocked at the report (on Gordhan’s imminent ‘arrest’) and we have come out clearly to say we are distancing ourselves from that report.
“There were media enquiries and we came out clearly that we are not going to engage this matter in the public space. We also put it on record that such irresponsible reporting, we don’t want to associate ourselves with.
“It’s public knowledge that there were questions sent to him (Gordhan). At the same time, we said it’s not an investigation against the minister. They were clarity-seeking questions, that’s all.”
Mulaudzi said the docket related to the so-called rogue Sars unit and that the National Director of Public Prosecutions had confirmed there was a docket, “but he never said anything about him (Gordhan) being arrested”.
“We don’t know where this arrest (reported by the Sunday Times) is coming from.”
The widening spat is seen to be the result of ongoing tensions between President Jacob Zuma and Gordhan, which have seen the finance minister face questions over a “rogue spy unit” at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) when he was its commissioner.
The Sunday Times reported that the Hawks had compiled a docket against Gordhan and eight others, saying his arrest was “imminent”.
Both the Hawks and the NPA have since denied this, but the belief persists in political quarters that Ntlemeza is working on Zuma’s behalf to intimidate and eliminate Gordhan so that he can be replaced as finance minister.
Gordhan has issued a statement describing the reports of his imminent arrest for “espionage” as extremely distressing, and has made a plea to South Africans to defend National Treasury staff.
“It is particularly painful,” he said, “to witness this unrestrained attack on honest and hard-working people and the institutions meant to strengthen our democracy,” he said, referring to the Treasury and Sars.
On Wednesday, Gordhan appeared in Parliament and called on South Africans to rally behind the government’s efforts to prevent a downgrade by two rating agencies.
Fitch and Standard & Poor’s are currently in the country to conduct an assessment. The two rating agencies are due to release their results on June 3.
Opposition parties warned that the threats against Gordhan would harm the economy and could push the country into a downgrade.
Gordhan, replying in the debate on the Appropriations Bill, said the country needed to pull together.
“It is us as the ANC government that have said the rating agencies must give us time to reignite growth,” he told Parliament.
He said he agreed with some of the MPs that everything had to be done to avoid a downgrade because the impact of a downgrade would cut across the entire society.
“One thing we must focus on is how we inspire confidence in the economy, and how we stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Gordhan.
Steve Swart, of the African Christian Democratic Party, said Gordhan had taken serious measures to prevent a downgrade and must be supported in this regard.
However, his hard work was undermined by what was going on in the country, and rating agencies want political stability and fiscal consolidation, he warned.[Source: IOL/ ANA]