Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan arrives to deliver his 2016 budget address at Parliament in Cape Town. Picture:  REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan arrives to deliver his 2016 budget address at Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

THERE is mounting political backing for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in what he says is a plot to discredit him and the Treasury, with the South African Communist Party (SACP) yesterday joining the African National Congress (ANC) in its support for him.

This comes as the battle lines between Mr Gordhan and South African Revenue Service (SARS) boss Tom Moyane are clearly drawn, with President Jacob Zuma in the invidious position of having to choose between the two men.

While on the surface the issue appears to be a clash between the two, insiders say there are dangerous undercurrents to the saga, dating back to the ill-fated appointment of Desmond van Rooyen as finance minister in December and, even before that, to a so-called "intelligence report" that attempted to smear top officials at the Treasury.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Gordhan said a letter containing questions about his knowledge of an alleged "rogue unit" at SARS was part of a plan by what he termed a "group of people not interested in the economic stability of this country and the welfare of its people", but interested only in "disrupting institutions and destroying reputations".

He warned that, if necessary, he would take "appropriate legal action" to protect himself and the Treasury from those seeking to discredit him, "the institution and its integrity". The working relationship between Mr Moyane and Mr Gordhan has broken down, but Business Day understands that they have been urged to attempt to resolve their differences.

According to senior leaders of the party, the ANC’s support for the embattled Mr Gordhan was "unquestionable".

While there is some "irritation" at Mr Moyane over his handling of the issues surrounding the rogue SARS unit, there was also concern over what effect any further ructions in the upper echelons of the tax agency would have on it and on its ability to fulfil its mandate.

A senior ANC leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said yesterday that a choice between the two was not easy to make.

In his statement on Friday, Mr Gordhan said he served in the position at the "pleasure" of the president.

"Together with the team at the National Treasury, we have always sought to put the national interest and our economic interests above the distractions from those who try to intimidate our work by running public disinformation campaigns," Mr Gordhan said.

On Friday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe issued a statement, announcing that Mr Gordhan had the party’s complete support.

Mr Mantashe went further, questioning the timing of the Hawks report and raising concern about the leaking of the letter to the media.

"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," Mr Mantashe said.

On Sunday, the SACP joined the ANC in supporting Mr Gordhan.

In a statement following its central committee meeting, the party raised concern about SARS, referring to an "attack" and undermining of its ability to deal effectively with high-income individuals and corporations for "entirely parasitic ends".

The party also criticised the reshuffling of finance ministers in December, saying that there was "insufficient collective leadership and consultation" on the move, which opened the door to a "renewed neoliberal offensive".

However, in a statement from the Presidency on Friday, Mr Zuma dismissed talk of "some conspiracy" against Mr Gordhan as rumours and gossip.

"These baseless rumours and gossip will not deter or divert government from moving forward with promoting fiscal consolidation and pushing for inclusive growth and job creation," the Presidency said.

It also said Mr Zuma would not comment on the matters relating to SARS, which were being handled by law enforcement agencies, "as this may wittingly or unwittingly impact on their work and independence".

SARS has not responded to requests for comment since Thursday.