After Monday’s proceedings at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture concluded, the paths of some of the main protagonists involved in the disaster that was capture crossed at the exit door.
Pravin Gordhan, the former minister of finance who stood like a sentinel watching over the country’s finances, was cornered by Zizi Kodwa, erstwhile ANC spokesperson who lashed the media in 2015 for creating “a narrative that the ANC leadership is captured by the Guptas”.
While Gordhan was talking to the governing party’s emissary, Dali Mpofu, there in his role as advocate defender of Tom Moyane, walked by, smiling. Moyane was of course deployed by then president Jacob Zuma to gut the SA Revenue Service (SARS), a task that he carried out with the necessary gusto. SARS was largely Gordhan and his team’s creation.
Earlier, members of the EFF, of which Mpofu is chairperson, loudly demonstrated against Gordhan, who the party accuses of aiding state capture and defending Zuma. But a little more than a year ago, the EFF marched in support of Gordhan, who in March 2017 was summarily dismissed by Zuma. “Gordhan must go!” they chanted while Floyd Shivambu was telling his supporters how the Guptas helped capture the state.
In that moment at the exit door, you had Kodwa, who once acted as Zuma’s spokesperson and who officially and on behalf of the ANC dismissed state capture in 2015, chatting to Gordhan.
You had Gordhan, who consistently, loudly and publicly identified the state capturers and rent-seekers who attacked Treasury, looking to leave the room.
And, walking past, you had Mpofu, whose party would have South Africans believe Gordhan is corrupt while he is defending Moyane, one of Zuma’s main enablers.
It’s maddening to keep track of it all.
Gordhan’s testimony at the Zondo commission on Monday was clear, thorough and forensic. He created the impression of someone that knew whatever he said was going to be picked apart and could quite conceivably form part of possible legal proceedings.
Dressed in a sober charcoal suit and wearing a violet tie, Gordhan answered questions from Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo and evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius in detail, sometimes expanding on his sworn statement and at other times offering clarification and opinion.
The bulk of his testimony in the morning session was about giving context to his history as a political activist as well as his career as a politician and a minister. He told Zondo about his youth as a member of the Natal Indian Congress, as an official at the multiparty talks at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), the period as a member of Parliament as well as his elevation as commissioner of SARS and eventually a member of Cabinet.
He also very clearly explained the position of National Treasury in the country’s governance architecture and the difficult role of Minister of Finance, where the one word that he got to use very often was “no”. Gordhan explained the many considerations the finance minister must at all times remain aware of in order to maintain and defend the country’s fiscal sovereignty – in other words, he needs to make sure we don’t spend more than we earn lest we have to apply for loans from institutions like the International Monetary Fund.
Gordhan, Pretorius and Zondo also spent a large chunk of the day talking about the theoretical construct of state capture, how it is not just random acts of corruption but more closely resembles organised crime, with a structure of functionaries in place to enable looting.
After these building blocks were in place – so that South Africans could understand the legal and conventional framework within which the minister operates – he proceeded to detail some of his experiences under the state capture regime. He spoke of Zuma’s determination to proceed with the Russian nuclear deal (as Nhlanhla Nene and Barbara Hogan had done), how Zuma eschewed advice on how to appoint a SARS commissioner (Moyane was appointed) and about dodgy deals involving PetroSA and Denel.
During his tumultuous tenure as finance minister, Gordhan was always well prepared, knowledgeable and deeply informed about world affairs. As a witness delivering a first-hand account about the damage wrought on the country by state capture and its proponents, he was equally convincing.
And those who earlier dismissed capture and are now calling for Gordhan’s head? At best, less than convincing and at worst, dishonest.
Gordhan’s testimony continues on Tuesday.