Zuma blinks: “Full confidence in Gordhan”, but claims no power to stop Hawks

By James Macharia

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's finance minister, right, sits beside Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, left, before delivering his 2016 budget speech to parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Gordhan stuck to a pledge to bring down the budget deficit, targeting civil-servant jobs and increasing wealth taxes to stave off a credit-rating downgrade to junk. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg
Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister (R), sits beside Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president (L).

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 25 (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday he has full confidence in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is under police investigation over a suspected spy unit at the tax service.

Zuma said he could not intervene in the investigations despite the negative impact the probe has caused on the economy, according to a statement released by the presidency.

The rand, which had tumbled 5 percent since Tuesday in response to the investigation, extended gains to 1.3 percent after Zuma’s statement after starting a recovery on Thursday.

News of Gordhan’s summons this week compounded investors’ worries about a power struggle between Zuma and Gordhan as Africa’s most industrialised economy teeters near recession and credit rating agencies consider downgrading it to “junk” by year-end.

In his first public comments on the matter since it surfaced late on Tuesday, Zuma said he had noted the concerns by individuals and various organisations over the investigation.

“President Jacob Zuma wishes to express his full support and confidence in the Minister of Finance and emphasises the fact that the minister has not been found guilty of any wrong doing,” the presidency said in a statement.

“The Presidency wishes to also emphasise that President Zuma does not have powers to stop any investigations into any individual/s.”

“The negative effect of these matters on our economy, personal pressure on the individuals affected as well as the heads of institutions, however disturbing, cannot be cause for the President to intervene unconstitutionally.”

Gordhan said on Wednesday he had no legal obligation to obey a police summons linked to an investigation into whether he used the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to spy on politicians including Zuma.

Statement from President Jacob Zuma

The Presidency has noted the concerns expressed by individuals and organisations in society about the reported investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) involving the Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan as well as other former South African Revenue Services officials.

President Jacob Zuma wishes to express his full support and confidence in the Minister of Finance and emphasises the fact that the Minister has not been found guilty of any wrong doing.

The Presidency wishes to also emphasise that President Zuma does not have powers to stop any investigations into any individual/s. Our constitutional democracy, the strength of our state institutions and the effectiveness of our courts in upholding and protecting rights is our guarantee of justice and fairness.

The negative effect of these matters on our economy, personal pressure on the individuals affected as well as the heads of institutions, however disturbing, cannot be cause for the President to intervene unconstitutionally.

The broader speculation linking these investigations to government and state owned institutions are equally unhelpful and they are also false and misleading.