Solly Mapaila. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Solly Mapaila. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

The SA Communist Party, supported by more than 20 civil society organisations, on Thursday came to the defence of public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.

Gordhan, who has been at the forefront of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean up the government and state-owned enterprises, has been under attack by allies of former president Jacob Zuma who are mounting a “fightback” campaign.

The Zuma allies have of late been joined by the EFF. 

At a media briefing on Thursday led by the SACP and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the group, which includes Business Leadership SA, Amnesty International, the Helen Suzman Foundation, Freedom Under Law and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac), all came to Gordhan’s defence.

Ramaphosa’s election as ANC president and then as president of the country was seen as critical in turning the tide against corruption and in fighting the scourge of state capture, which has done considerable damage to state-owned enterprises. The process has, however, not been smooth sailing and some identified as involved are fighting back against the government.

Thursday’s event marked the revival of a grassroots campaign against Zuma and state capture that led to  his downfall a couple of years ago. Zuma was forced to resign from office in February 2018 when the ANC’s national executive committee recalled him as a result of state capture allegations involving him, his son Duduzane and the controversial Gupta family. 

The SACP, as an alliance partner of the ANC, was a critical voice in the mobilisation against state capture. Its presence in the group is sure to put it on a collision path with a faction in the ANC that is fighting back against the gains made by Ramaphosa to clean up the party and the government.

In a collective statement read out by SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo, the group said it was clear the country faced a concerted “fightback” against the renewal of society by those implicated in state capture.

“Theirs is an attempt to subvert the processes underway to rebuild efficient and ethical governance so that they may remain unaccountable,” Mashilo said.

Mashilo said the grouping would challenge the peddling of fake news and highly racialised narratives that aim “to characterise those who fight state capture as being counter-revolutionaries, anti-black and anti-radical economic transformation”.

The group also said it was worrying that the discredited narrative of a so-called rogue unit within the SA Revenue Service (Sars) has been revived.

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane ordered remedial action against Gordhan in two separate reports in what the group said was part of the fightback campaign. One related to the early pension payout of former deputy Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay, while the other related to the so-called rogue unit which was established when Gordhan was Sars commissioner. Gordhan has taken both reports on judicial review.

Mashilo said they were calling for cross-party unity to begin the process in the National Assembly of reviewing Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.

The battle between Gordhan and Mkhwebane has resulted in mobilisation on both sides of the divide, with the EFF most prominently backing Mkhwebane.

EFF MPs were thrown out of parliament during Gordhan’s public enterprises budget vote address last week after they heckled him when he was trying to address parliament.

Solly Mapaila, deputy general secretary of the SACP, came out strongly in support of the former Sars officials who were implicated in the rogue unit saga. He said Gordhan had been singled out as a stumbling block in the fight against corruption by some in state-owned enterprises who believe that a fight against corruption is a “fight against blackness”.

“This narrative that Pravin is anti-black in order to perpetuate corruption in state-owned enterprises is completely unacceptable,” Mapaila said.

He said people like Gordhan who stood firm in implementing the ANC’s resolution to fight corruption “should be protected”.

“If we allow someone like (Gordhan) to fall, all of us will fall one by one. Corruption will never be defeated,” Mapaila said.