The most telling comment to emerge from the swirling smog of rumours indicating the imminent arrest of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on charges of espionage came from Institute of Security Studies policing researcher Johan Burger, who flatly stated that South Africans should be extremely worried.
“There are far too many questions not properly answered around political interference and the abuse of power,” was the way Burger framed his response to reports that the Hawks were looking to charge Gordhan and eight others for allegedly spying on taxpayers during the minister’s tenure as SA Revenue Service commissioner. It comes from an independent and informed body separated from the murky mudslinging.
Gordhan has, understandably, expressed his deep distress at the very thought of being charged for an alleged offence that he claims to be “completely innocent” of and which has been manufactured “for other motives”.
What is beyond all doubt, though, is the barbs aimed at Gordhan had an immediate negative effect on the currency, with the rand taking a 2% downward plunge – a fall our already distressed economy can simply not afford.
In this context, it must be recalled that the reappointment of Gordhan to the finance portfolio had the consequence of arresting the currency’s disastrous R500 billion skydive when President Jacob Zuma took the decision to fire the then incumbent Nhlanhla Nene.
If there is any substance to the rumour of the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority targeting Gordhan, it is surely the time to put up or shut up and give the minister the somewhat dubious courtesy of pleading his case in court.
If, on the other hand, Gordhan’s contention that he and his staff need protection by ordinary South Africans against state agencies “manipulating” the forces of law and order is true, all of us have cause to be extremely worried about the health of our democracy.