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Wed Dec 07 12:30:51 SAST 2016

Nhleko did little to contain Hawks' fallout over Gordhan

The Times Editorial | 2016-03-03 00:41:17.0

What exactly was the purpose of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko's briefing to journalists yesterday on the Hawks' investigation into the now disbanded ''rogue unit'' allegedly set up at SARS under Pravin Gordhan's watch?

Was it a belated attempt at damage control following revelations that the elite police unit had attempted to grill Gordhan just days before he presented the most important Budget in South Africa's history in what is widely believed to have been an attempt by powerful figures, including President Jacob Zuma, to undermine him?

If so, it wasn't much of a success. Nhleko, flanked by State Security Minister David Mahlobo, ducked and dived when difficult questions were put to him.

Had the two ministers discussed their concerns about the SARS unit with the finance minister before the Hawks sent him their 27 questions, coupled with the instruction that he deliver his response ''by hand'' by yesterday?

The answer: Cabinet colleagues meet to discuss matters from time to time.

South Africans were none the wiser afterwards, left only with Nhleko's assurance that Gordhan was not the target of the inquiry and that the Hawks must get on with their investigation without interference ringing in their ears.

Nhleko, who mesmerised television viewers last year with a quirky presentation on his now discredited report that ''exonerated'' Zuma of responsibility in the splurging of millions of rands of public money on his home, would have done better to issue a press release.

On Monday, Zuma himself issued a statement denying that he was using SARS commissioner Tom Moyane to fight a proxy battle with Gordhan, whom he had to parachute into the Treasury in December because of his disastrous tinkering with the finance ministry. Surely Zuma's assurance that Gordhan's job was safe and that steps were being taken to address his ''difficulties'' with Moyane was sufficient.

After all, the rand, battered on Friday by news of the rift between Gordhan and Moyane and the Hawks investigation, recovered some of its losses after the president's statement.

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