President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa shake hands with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan after his budget speech in Cape Town on Wednesday. Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa shake hands with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan after his budget speech in Cape Town on Wednesday. Picture: GCIS

AFTER days of fallout over a public fight between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane, President Jacob Zuma weighed in on Monday, saying Mr Gordhan’s position was not in jeopardy.

But Mr Zuma said he would not stop a Hawks investigation into a so-called rogue unit at SARS, nor would he fire Mr Moyane.

"Reports have insinuated that the position of Minister Gordhan could be in jeopardy. The president wishes to emphasise that Minister Gordhan remains the minister of finance and any positing that the position of the minister is under any threat is dismissed with the contempt it deserves."

On Friday, the rand tanked to more than R16/$, hitting R16.22/$ on Monday as the dispute between Mr Gordhan and Mr Moyane raged amid reports of Mr Gordhan’s threat to resign if Mr Moyane remained at SARS.

The Presidency tried to play down the tensions.

"The media has incorrectly reported, among other things, that there is a war at SARS and that the president and the minister of finance are somehow at war. This is a total fabrication and mischievous sensationalism," it said.

Late on Monday, the rand recovered to R15.77/$ after the Presidency’s statement and better than expected trade data.

Mr Gordhan has described a letter from the Hawks with 27 questions about his knowledge of a so-called rogue unit at SARS as an to attempt "intimidate and distract" him ahead of last week’s budget.

He stated "categorically" that the Hawks had no reason to investigate him and said the probe was being driven by people with no interest in the country, its economy nor its people. Mr Gordhan warned that he would resort to legal action to protect himself and the Treasury from attempts to discredit them.

The Presidency said on Monday it would not interfere in the Hawks probe, and that it should be allowed to run its course.

But it conceded there was "difficulty" between Mr Gordhan and Mr Moyane — for the first time saying: "Measures are being put in place to address the issues responsibly and amicably, for the benefit of all. We urge interested parties to exercise calm and restraint and allow space for the matters to be resolved using correct channels," it said.

In addition, the Hawks issued a statement indicating that it was not investigating Mr Gordhan "per se", but the rogue unit at the tax agency, saying it was "not in the interests of justice" when matters under investigation were "blown out of proportion".

It appears from the statements on Monday, that despite political support from sections of the African National Congress and its allies, Mr Gordhan’s tough situation remains largely unchanged.

This was the second statement from the Presidency on the tensions between the two, but Friday’s was vague and Mr Zuma dismissed reports of "some conspiracy" against Mr Gordhan as "rumour and gossip".

That caused the rand to fall.

In his statement on Monday, Mr Zuma said calls for the dismissal of Mr Moyane or for him to "interfere with government agencies", referring to the Hawks, were "unhelpful".

The statement reminded "all interested parties of the need to respect institutions and processes created in terms of the Constitution and the law".

The standoff between Mr Moyane and Mr Gordhan boiled over last week after the commissioner was not invited to the minister’s pre-budget media briefing.

The relationship between the two men has been tense from the start, after the latter was reappointed finance minister in December following Desmond van Rooyen’s shock four-day tenure, which caused a markets blood bath.

One of Mr Gordhan’s first actions was a visit to Mr Moyane at the SARS headquarters.

Soon after his appointment in September 2014, he was seen to have targeted SARS officials close to Mr Gordhan in response to reports relating to the so-called "rogue unit".

Mr Gordhan, who was SARS commissioner when the unit was formed, has consistently said the unit was above board — including in a statement on Friday.

He has said it was approved by then finance minister, Trevor Manuel.

Mr Manuel weighed in on the saga on Friday, saying if he were still in the post, he would fire Mr Moyane.

At a post-budget discussion, Mr Gordhan described Mr Moyane’s "defiance" as "unacceptable".

In January, Business Day reported that Mr Gordhan had instructed Mr Moyane to halt a wide-ranging restructuring at SARS to examine the effect of it on the tax agency, but Mr Moyane proceeded with it, saying in a statement that he had obtained approval from former finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene.

The Presidency conceded that there was "difficulty in the relationship" between Mr Gordhan and Mr Moyane, but said it was "being dealt with through the correct channels".

Mr Zuma has been in discussions with the pair "long before" the state of the nation address and the budget. "There are prescripts within government which stipulate the processes to be utilised to resolve labour relations issues or disputes within the work environment," it said.