For now, South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan still has a job and he just got more responsibilities heaped on him to try and solve the country’s higher education fees crisis.
The country’s university students have for months been protesting for free higher education.
Gordhan is innocent of fraud charges until a court proves otherwise and with a Nov. 2 court date less than two weeks away, the government has decided Gordhan might be useful helping to solve crises like the one grabbing international headlines over protests at South African universities.
The country’s third finance minister in less than a year, Gordhan has been charged with fraud after granting early retirement to former South African Revenue Services commissioner Ivan Pillay, and then rehiring him as a contractor, according to a Bloomberg report.
The event happened years ago in Gordhan’s previous role as head of the South African Revenue Service, costing the tax agency around $79,000, according to Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams, Reuters reported.
Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency, said Gordhan is “innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law,” as guaranteed by the country’s constitution, Eyewitness News reported.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority has the authority to prosecute Gordhan, Radebe said.
“Cabinet has affirmed its support for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan,” Radebe told reporters in Pretoria following a cabinet meeting.
Radebe also announced that Gordhan will now be included in a ministerial task team dealing with the higher education fees crisis.
“In appreciation of the magnitude of the challenges, President Zuma has further broadened the composition of the ministerial task team with the inclusion of the ministers of human settlements, communications, finance and social development.”
Gordhan’s initial exclusion from the task team, announced last week by Zuma, did not go unnoticed.
Gordhan has clashed with Zuma over the management of state companies and the national tax agency. He said he has done nothing wrong.
He is credited with maintaining South Africa’s investment-grade credit rating, which is up for review, Bloomberg reported.
Any attempt to undermine South Africa’s key institutions like the Treasury Department would see the country likely downgraded to junk status, rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) said last week, Mail & Guardian reported.
Other senior officials have backed him including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said Sunday said the finance minister had his moral and political support.
This case against Gordhan may have less to do with the law than with the pursuit of a political agenda, according to an opinion piece in Independent Online:
The reckless disregard of the substance and procedure of the law by the very state agencies which claim to protect and enforce it, is deeply ominous.