South Africans rally round their minister for finance

Pravin Gordhan refuses to ask prosecution not to proceed with fraud charges against him

South Africa’s minister for finance Pravin Gordhan: Analysts have said the charges against him are politically motivated, and some suspect the hand of president Jacob Zuma is guiding the National Prosecution Authority.    Photograph: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

South Africa’s minister for finance Pravin Gordhan: Analysts have said the charges against him are politically motivated, and some suspect the hand of president Jacob Zuma is guiding the National Prosecution Authority. Photograph: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

 

South Africa’s minister for finance Pravin Gordhan has refused an opportunity to make representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on why he should not face the fraud charges levelled against him last week.

Mr Gordhan’s decision not to ask for the indictments to be discharged by the state has come as a groundswell of public and political support has emerged to defend him in the run-up to the November 2nd hearing.

Opposition parties, civil society groups and a number of senior African National Congress members have given their support to Mr Gordhan and vowed to march to the court in solidarity with him.

In a letter to the national director of public prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, Mr Gordhan’s lawyer Tebogo Malatji said his client was declining the offer to make a representation as he did not think he would get a “fair hearing”.

Furthermore, he added, Mr Abrahams had received independent submissions from the human rights groups Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation setting out in detail that there was no basis to charge the minister and why he should drop the case.

Withdraw charges

Mr Malatji concluded that if he so wished, Mr Abrahams could withdraw the charges based on those submissions, but that his client would not seek to have them dismissed.

The vast majority of legal experts who gave their opinion publicly in recent days on the validity of the fraud charges against Mr Gordhan maintained the state had little chance of securing a successful prosecution.

Mr Gordhan and two former colleagues from the South African Revenue Service (Sars) were charged with fraud linked to an allegedly irregular approval of former Sars director Irvin Pillay’s early retirement pay-out in 2010, which cost 1.14 million rand (€72,000).

Mr Pillay and the third accused, former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula, made representations to the NPA relating to their case earlier this week.

Many political analysts believe the charges brought against the finance minister and his former Sars colleagues are politically motivated, and designed to have him sidelined from the National Treasury.

Since his reappointment in December 2015, Mr Gordhan has been tackling government corruption and overspending, and the alleged capture of the state by private interests, as part of his efforts to stabilise South Africa’s floundering economy and stave off a ratings agency downgrade.

Some of South African president Jacob Zuma’s critics maintain he is the hidden hand directing the NPA’s efforts to have Mr Gordhan’s attentions diverted from his work. However, Mr Zuma has publicly backed his finance minister a number of times.

Nevertheless, it seems the fraud charges have inadvertently provided the different anti-Zuma forces in South Africa an acceptable figurehead – in Mr Gordhan – to rally around.

There has been growing opposition to Mr Zuma’s rule over the past 12 months due to the various scandals he has been involved in in recent years. But those calling for him to stand down have failed to establish a united front that can apply the kind of pressure needed to achieve their goal.