Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Winston Churchill once described Russia as a "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". The Hawks in SA fulfil something of a similar role.

In the broadest sense, the crime-fighting unit’s actions are simply inexplicable. The number of charges the Hawks could and should have brought against the Gupta empire are almost too many to count.

To take one example, in a purely hypothetical situation, that, let’s say, state funds intended to establish, let’s say, a dairy in the Free State are shipped holus-bolus to, let’s say, Dubai, and are then shipped back to SA to fund an enormously expensive wedding for a family member of the grantee of the funds, you have what might be called an open-and-shut case. The recipients would potentially be guilty of theft, fraud, tax evasion and running a criminal enterprise.

What makes the investigation seem so strange is that the Hawks have flatly denied that their demand that Manuel make a statement is related to charges they are trying to bring against Gordhan

The most the Hawks will tell us is that they are "investigating" this situation. Yet apparently no one has been urgently dispatched to ask anyone who might be involved in this crime to make a statement or give evidence and no one has been subpoenaed. It is almost as though the investigation is not high on their agenda.

However, the Hawks appear to be a hundred times more animated about something that happened more than a decade ago: the establishment of a South African Revenue Service unit to investigate tax criminals.

This unit, dubbed a "rogue unit", may or may not have followed instructions. It may or may not have been correctly established. It may have offended, in some minor way, a dusty statute. But what we know is that it was cabinet-approved and that the intention was to raise money for the state. Is that really something that should be the most urgent matter on the Hawks’s agenda?

Why, one asks, pulling one’s hair out, has this become such an obsession for the organisation, while more immediate problems are gathering dust in an office corner in Silverton?

The Hawks have confirmed that they are demanding statements from former finance minister Trevor Manuel and his deputy, Jabu Moleketi, on the matter.

The answer to this question is not difficult to fathom. Manuel and his successor, Pravin Gordhan, are targets of revenge attacks by the supporters of President Jacob Zuma — for entirely political reasons. In order to give some credence to their weird claims, the Hawks have been pressured to try and find some material with which to discredit the opposition faction within the ANC.

What makes the investigation seem so strange is that the Hawks have flatly denied that their demand that Manuel make a statement is related to charges they are trying to bring against Gordhan. "I don’t know where this narrative is coming from," says Hawks’ spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi, butter melting in his mouth. He claims that neither Manuel nor Moleketi is a suspect in this case and that the Hawks are not preparing subpoenas against Gordhan.

"We are just doing our jobs. That’s it."

Well, if you believe that, you will believe anything. It is completely consistent with the history of the Hawks and Zuma-appointed securocrats that the obvious is not investigated. But anyone who dares to cross the president’s coterie in some way is investigated.

The investigations are legally dubious and involve something that may or may not have happened years ago. If an honest case existed, it could and should have been brought a long time ago. The Hawks’s continuing efforts to do presidential dirty work demeans the organisation and threatens the future of criminal prosecution in SA.

By persistently pursuing this noncase, they lay themselves open to being charged with defeating the ends of justice.

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