The Hawks swoop to a new low

Andrew Donaldson says denying Johann van Loggerenberg a smoke was both cruel and unusual


MUCH grumbling and murmurs of disapproval from the Mahogany Ridge regulars at reports of the shabby treatment the former South African Revenue Services official Johann van Loggerenberg received from the Hawks this week.

As you’re no doubt well aware, Van Loggerenberg — along with another ex-Sars employee, Ivan Pillay, and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan — had been directed to report to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation in Pretoria on Thursday, and there subject themselves to the latest developments in the grubby capture of the Treasury.

Gordhan declined the invitation. But, perhaps against their better judgement, Van Loggerenberg and Pillay chose to dignify the Hawks with their presence. 

Their lawyers told reporters afterwards that the four-hour meeting had been a waste of time. “Our clients consider the allegation [concerning the establishment of a “rogue” investigative unit] baseless and will follow due processes in accordance with their rights.”

The ordeal was particularly awful for Van Loggerenberg, who couldn’t wait to light up a cigarette afterwards. “I had been dying for a smoke,” the Citizen quoted him as saying, before adding, somewhat enigmatically, “Keep calm and move on.”

Not only did this run counter to established conventions that such “grillings” take place in low-lit airless rooms thick with tobacco smoke, but it is exceptionally ill-mannered and reprehensibly cruel not to allow a guest who wants to smoke to have a cigarette.

Such a pronounced lack of couth — as PG Wodehouse may have put it — in those who would so clumsily do his bidding does not bode well for the President.

Jacob Zuma is abroad for a fortnight or so. He’s in Nairobi at the moment, for a conference on Japanese aid and development in Africa. From there, it’s off to Swaziland for a Southern African Development Community chinwag and, finally, the forthcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou, China.

It is a long time to be away, but it’s probably just as well. There’s far too much unhappiness at home, all that whining about election losses and the histrionics with Gordhan and what have you.

Quite why Gordhan wasn’t more “humble and patriotic”, as the ANC Youth League helpfully suggested, and just didn’t comply with Number One’s wishes, remained a mystery. Or so it seemed to league spokesman Mondli Mkhize. 

What was wrong with the man? Did Gordhan not realise that this “unnecessary” drama and refusal to meet with the Hawks has placed the rand under terrible pressure? 

And, as Edward Zuma, the President’s son, has so helpfully reminded the nation, Gordhan was not above the law. 

“One is very perturbed by the behaviour and sheer arrogance that Pravin Gordhan is displaying in the Hawks/Sars issue. I would have expected him to be an example on the matter, especially because he has all of a sudden become the darling of the white monopoly capital.”

Such blind loyalty — Edward has always been good that way — and how proud his father must be. 

On a more alarming note, however, Edward went on to say his father had faced criminal charges in the past and would probably do so again in the future. (Really? Do tell. — Ed.

So why shouldn’t Gordhan do the same? Was it because that would threaten economic stability?

“Let's not be fooled by the so-called ‘rating agencies’ in that the rand will crumble because of the super minister Gordhan. If he's clean then [he must] stop panicking as if he’s hiding something.”

Fine words, but then his father released a reluctant statement suggesting — ahem! — he has full confidence in his finance minister. 

So why isn’t this confidence shared by the Hawks? No-one for a moment believes Zuma’s claim that he was powerless to stop their investigation of Gordhan. 

And yet there are many economists and analysts who suggest that the President is oblivious of the economic havoc he’s causing, or that he just doesn’t care. There are even those who suggest a conspiracy is afoot. That there are those who will greatly benefit from the rand’s deepening woes.

But it could well be just this: he simply needs to dole out more cash to remain in favour with those who would shore up his position. And Gordhan won’t let him.

It’s a problem — especially with all those counts of fraud Zuma faces. They may be dormant, but they’re not going away. At least not if he cannot engineer who takes over from him as president of the party and then as head of state. He needs someone who will protect him. 

And this being the rotten world it is, with friends few and far between, such protection was not going to come cheap.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.