Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, while speaking at a business event on Wednesday night styled as a debate between himself and Justice Malala, made it clear that he was still focused on the immediate task at hand as finance minister: to get the economy growing again, keep South Africa’s fiscal policy secure and sound and see through plans that would fight poverty, contribute to the creation of jobs and undo the legacy of the past.
He also touched on the pressing point on the lips of the whole of South Africa: his possible arrest by the Hawks. In reaction to that, he repeated his statement from earlier in the day that he was under no obligation to present himself to the Hawks.
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He said this had started earlier in the year during his being sent 27 questions by the elite crime-fighting unit, and his answering of those questions.
“I was advised in no uncertain terms by the head of the Hawks, Berning Ntlemeza, that I was not a suspect in their investigations,” said Gordhan.
He listed a number of other legal points, and said the Hawks had contravened a number of laws and that the alleged charges against him were “wholly unfounded”.
He said he would not present himself for reasons that were both legal and for other considerations.
“I have a job to do in a difficult economic environment and to serve South Africa as best I can. Let me do my job. Thank you.”
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Earlier, in his address to the Cape Chamber audience at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town, he had been highly critical of political rhetoric and said that, as a country, South Africa had moved beyond “what T-shirt you are wearing” and that jobs did not grow on trees.
“Politicans campaign by promising how many jobs they will be making, but ladies in gentlemen, you would know that if you aren’t hiring people, if you aren’t creating enterprises to hire people, then there won’t be new jobs”.
He reiterated, however, that he remained a member of the 104-year-old ANC, and had been part of it for 40 years. However, he acknowledged that the party was in crisis and would need to get back to what it had been in the past. When he mentioned the vision and leadership of former president Nelson Mandela, he was given rousing applause.
He was also applauded for saying that billions could be added to the national fiscus if the country could tighten up on controls for businesses using various methods to avoid declaring profits and thus avoid paying tax. “We need to put a stop to all the nonsense,” said Gordhan.
He assured the audience that despite what the ANC had now become, he still believed it would be able to return to its founding principles. He refused, however, to speak too much about domestic politics.
This week it was announced that President Jacob Zuma would be assuming personal oversight of SAA, whose personal friend Dudu Myeni has been much criticised as its chairperson. The airline once again faces financial ruin. Many have speculated that Gordhan’s predecessor, Nhlanhla Nene, was fired controversially in December last year due to his not allowing Myeni’s proposed deals to go through at SAA, as well as his critical stance of a proposed trillion-rand nuclear build programme.
When Gordhan’s fellow debater, political analyst and commentator Malala, asked Gordhan to talk about the crisis at South Africa’s state-owned entities, Gordhan said: “Until now I was enjoying this evening, and then [Justice] brings up SAA. Let me give you the diplomatic statement: we’re working on it, Justice.”
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Gordhan also slammed what he called “this new brand of politicians who claim to represent the poor, but in reality represent their own interests”.
“We’ve actually done phenomenally well over the past 20 years to alleviate poverty … we’ve changed the lives of poor people phenomenally, though we could have done better.
“All I am saying is let’s get serious about the poor.
He rather cryptically described the metros that the DA was now in charge of, without mentioning the opposition party directly, as “foreign-territory metros”.
Once the laughter around that died down, he added: “They’ll be sending us their budgets. We’ll be analysing them.”
Speaking more generally, he said that the country’s much-lauded constitution would only have meaning if people had a constitutional character and there was social solidarity among people in South Africa to live out the ideals espoused by the constitution.
He returned to a theme he said was very important for him: youth unemployment. “Our young people … all of us here in this room can make a huge contribution to … employ [more] young people.”