ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Picture: THE TIMES
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Picture: THE TIMES

AFRICAN National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has questioned the timing of a letter from the Hawks to Pravin Gordhan, expressing the party’s "full confidence" in the finance minister.

Mr Mantashe criticised the letter, saying the intention was to "distract" the minister "during this important time".

The statement pulls no punches and clearly shows that there is a rift between the top leaders of the party over Mr Gordhan’s return to the key post, after President Jacob Zuma earlier this week described Des Van Rooyen as "the most qualified" finance minister he had appointed thus far, in what appeared to be a swipe at Mr Gordhan.

The statement comes as the battle between Mr Gordhan and South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane — who has the support of Mr Zuma — has reached breaking point.

Mr Gordhan, ahead of his budget speech, told Mr Zuma that either he or Mr Moyane must go. Mr Zuma indicated his support for Mr Moyane in response. Mr Gordhan, speaking at a PWC event on Friday, described Mr Moyane’s defiance as "absolutely unacceptable". This is after Mr Moyane’s did not halt a massive restructuring of SARS on Mr Gordhan’s instructions.

The statement from the ANC is also unusual for the party, who until now steered clear of commenting publicly on the SARS fall -out.

In the statement on Friday, Mr Mantashe said: "It is the view of the ANC that the complex and difficult work that has been done by the President and Minister since December to date, including during the budget speech, have restored the confidence of our people in the economy and brought about stability.

"The ANC commends Minister of Finance and his team for the hard work and the energy that they invested thus far. We further reiterate our full confidence in the Minister and his team for the work they continue to do," Mr Mantashe said.

He said the party noted the media reports on the Hawks’ letter to Mr Gordhan days before he delivered his budget. The letter had asked Mr Gordhan to provide clarity on his knowledge of the "rogue unit"; the employment and contract given to former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay; Project Sunday Evenings in which the National Prosecuting Authority was reportedly spied on; and on Andries "Skollie" van Rensburg, a SARS employee who left under a cloud. Mr Gordhan confirmed receiving the letter on Friday at the PwC event.

Mr Mantashe said it was "unfortunate that there are now initiatives that are intended to undermine" the work done to stabilise the economy. He warned that it could have a "destabilising effect in the long term".

"The timing of these questions indicates clearly that there was intention to distract the minister during this important time. It is even more disconcerting that these questions were leaked to the media. In our view this is a well calculated destabilisation plan with all the elements of disinformation, falsehoods and exaggerated facts," he said.

Mr Mantashe added that it knew who was leaking the information and would "engage" the person responsible.

"In the event that the Hawks have anything to investigate related to the minister and SARS, it would be in the best interest of our country if they did so professionally, using the correct channel and procedures and not seek to conduct a trial through the media," Mr Mantashe said.

With Ntsakisi Maswanganyi