Various Sunday newspaper reports make it clear that the so-called Sars wars have reached a critical point.
City Press reports that “more than 30 witnesses” have already been found who appear willing to testify against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his former colleagues from his time as the commissioner of the SA Revenue Service (Sars). Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg and others are with him in the firing line.
One of these witnesses, journalist Abram Mashego reports, is an ANC donor who used to be a business partner to President Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma. The donor, Jen-Chih “Robert” Huang, made headlines in 2014 when Sars confiscated 18 500 T-shirts for which no customs duty had been paid. He had been trying to donate the T-shirts to the ruling party ahead of the 2014 elections.
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Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has reported that Gordhan is not willing to back down and told Treasury staff he was “prepared to die for what I believe in”, just as he had been in the days of fighting apartheid, as he felt that Treasury was being “persecuted” for opposing corruption.
Much of the contention is understood to be around contracts or proposed contracts that the controversial Gupta family, understood to be close friends of Zuma’s, has secured or proposed with the state or state-owned enterprises. The Sunday Times mentioned a highly controversial coal deal to supply Eskom, a partnership with the state-owned arms manufacturer, Denel, and a rail deal with Transnet – although there are several others.
The family has been embroiled in a long-running battle to continue operating in the country after South Africa’s banks made a public decision to no longer offer their services to any Gupta-controlled company.
Gordhan reportedly told his staff that he and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, were expecting to be reshuffled out of Cabinet at any time, and that it could even still occur over the weekend. The presidency on Friday, however, stated that Zuma still supported Gordhan – officially, at least – but was powerless to intervene in the case against him.
Economists have warned that another “Nenegate”, when previous finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was unexpectedly fired, could have even more devastating effects on the economy and the rand, which could lose half its value over a short period of time. That would cripple the country. The Sunday Times reported that even the Chinese government appears to be concerned about the state of the country and the damage that could be done to its South African investments.
City Press has also reported that the head of the Hawks, Major General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, was furious that Gordhan refused to give a warning statement in Pretoria on Thursday. The paper said a former Sars official is understood to have turned state witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The officer is understood to have been part of the controversial so-called rogue unit at Sars and will reportedly be willing to testify about alleged illegal spying on National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) officials on Sunday evenings.
The NPA is reportedly considering whether to bring charges, but City Press reports the case docket has been handed to NPA boss Shaun Abrahams personally, and Gordhan and his former colleagues will “definitely” be charged.