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Wed Jun 29 14:41:05 CAT 2016

Questioning Gordhan raises a question: What's really going on?

Ray Hartley | 01 March, 2016 00:26

The clash between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks over the "27 questions" he has been asked to answer by tomorrow illustrates just how far the credibility of law enforcement has fallen.

Back in 2007 there was the unfortunate series of phone calls made just before the ANC's national elective conference in Polokwane, which suggested that the timing of the decision to prosecute Jacob Zuma was being orchestrated by those close to Thabo Mbeki.

Judge Chris Nicholson found this odd and ruled that the charges against Zuma be dropped on the grounds that political interference was being exerted. This turned out to be a terrible judgment, which was overturned on appeal, as Mbeki has recently pointed out.

I am no lawyer, but my recollection is that the appeal court did not find that there was no political interference. It found that such interference was irrelevant to whether there was a case to answer based on the facts.

The end result was that the Scorpions and the National Prosecuting Authority suffered their first major post-apartheid credibility crisis.

It was downhill from there. Once in office as ANC president, Zuma had to make a simple calculation: emasculate the prosecuting authority or face an investigation into his relationship with Schabir Shaik, among other things.

He proceeded to do the former, using the interim president, Kgalema Motlanthe, as his battering ram. To his eternal discredit, Motlanthe signed off on the disbanding of the Scorpions and the introduction of the far less independent Hawks.

He then appointed a succession of poorly qualified - and sometimes downright dodgy - persons to head the prosecuting authority.

Voila! The Hawks proceeded to ignore Zuma altogether while the prosecuting authority descended into internecine warfare that has shredded its credibility.

Having singularly failed to prosecute any sitting ANC leader - in contrast to its pre-Zuma iterations, which took down Shaik, Yengeni and Boesak, among others - it is completely surprising that the Hawks have suddenly awoken from their slumber to go after Gordhan as if he were OJ Simpson in a Ford Bronco hurtling down the M1 after committing a murder.

Remember this same prosecuting authority is, as we speak, defending itself against litigation intended to force it to charge Zuma in connection with the Shaik corruption case.

The questions put to Gordhan reek of opportunism, coming as they do after Zuma failed to mount a putsch at the Treasury which would have seen his man, Des van Rooyen, writing blank cheques to SA Airways and God knows who else.

Which is not to say that Gordhan might not have a case to answer. It could well be that the unit which he established at SARS crossed the boundary, as has been extensively reported in the Sunday Times.

The real question is whether this is a genuine attempt at bringing the accused to justice, or a high-level political play on Zuma's chess board.

What does not make sense is how they are going about the case. The normal order of things would be to arrest and try those who directly committed the offences, seeking to turn them against those at the top in order to build a case.

Firing off a letter that is then leaked to the press on the eve of the Budget just does not look like proper law enforcement.

This impression is reinforced by reading the questions, which appear to be aimed at smearing Gordhan in front of an audience instead of extracting information from him.

What is really revealing is question 11.1: "Do you know anything about [an] operation code named 'Sunday Evenings'? The bugging or installation of sophisticated surveillance equipment at National Prosecuting Authority offices?"

There are two things which are immediately alarming.

The first is that the Hawks are very keen to reveal what they know about this "Operation Sunday Evenings". So keen that they reveal what they know about it - "the bugging or installation of sophisticated surveillance equipment at National Prosecuting Authority offices".

Why do this unless you want to alert others, who will see the questions, to this fact?

The second is that there is a direct interest in this. Could it be that such "bugging" turned up conversations that would embarrass the NPA? Unless they were discredited, say, by an investigation into their legality?

Such is the speculation that arises when law enforcement has become politicised.

The line between committing a crime and fighting a political battle has become blurred and justice becomes the loser.

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