FINANCE Minister Pravin Gordhan threatened to resign from the Cabinet last weekend, a move that would have weakened the rand and caused renewed chaos in SA’s markets.
According to several sources, Mr Gordhan’s ultimatum to President Jacob Zuma ahead of his budget speech was due to a serious deterioration in his relationship with South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane.
The latest incident to fuel the acrimony was a letter from the Hawks to Mr Gordhan, questioning his knowledge of an alleged rogue unit at the tax agency. The letter from the Hawks is understood to have also asked about the employment of former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.
The Hawks also wanted answers on Project Sunday Evening, during which the National Prosecuting Authority was reportedly spied on. They also wanted answers on the involvement of Andries Van Rensburg, or "Skollie", who left SARS under a cloud.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said on Thursday the agency did not "investigate people through the media".
Sources close to the minister and Mr Moyane said that at last weekend’s meeting, Mr Gordhan had told Mr Zuma that he could no longer work with Mr Moyane.
"Moyane must go or I must go," was the ultimatum from Mr Gordhan to the president.
Mr Moyane has purged SARS of people associated with Mr Gordhan — who is a former commissioner — and has also used a contentious report on the unit.
Senior SARS officials — including Mr Pillay, head of investigations Johann Van Loggerenberg, and head of risk and strategy Peter Richer — were axed or departed after lengthy suspensions. Mr Gordhan too was targeted after a leaked copy of a KPMG document reportedly recommended that he be questioned about the unit.
When Mr Gordhan was reappointed finance minister in December, he ordered Mr Moyane to halt a huge restructuring project; said SARS should not issue media statements except on routine matters; and asked that there be no leaks of information.
Mr Zuma is understood to have told Mr Gordhan that he was happy with the work Mr Moyane was doing and that he believed he should continue in the post.
Mr Zuma then discussed the issue with the top six leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) on Monday. However, ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said it was not true that the matter had been discussed and declined to comment on it, saying it was an issue of governance.
Ahead of a meeting by the top six, Mr Zuma told journalists at the inaugural meeting of the presidential press corps that his pick for finance minister after firing Nhlanhla Nene, Desmond van Rooyen, was "the most qualified minister he had ever appointed to that post".
In hindsight, the statement appears to have been a swipe at Mr Gordhan. Sources said Mr Gordhan had told the ANC caucus in Parliament on Thursday of his ultimatum to the president.
Treasury spokeswoman Phumza Macanda said the Treasury was not commenting.
SARS spokesman Sandile Memela would not respond to questions, saying the agency’s turnaround time was 24 hours.