Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance of South Africa at the at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2012. South Africa's Jesuits warns that pursing charges against Gordhan might have serious economic consequences. Photo/courtesy of World Economic Forum, Wikimedia Commons

South Africa's Jesuits: Harassing finance minister could hurt poor

By  Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service
  • August 27, 2016

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South Africa's Jesuits have warned that pursuing charges against the finance minister could harm the country's economy and have devastating effects on the poor.

An elite police division's "harassment" of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, "which by all accounts has no legitimacy or credibility," has serious consequences for the country, the Johannesburg-based Jesuit Institute said in an Aug. 25 statement.

Gordhan was summoned by the elite Hawks police division and may face charges in connection with an investigation into espionage at the state tax service, which he headed from 1999 to 2009.

The motive for the summons is "clearly political," the institute said, noting that the police unit is being used by President Jacob Zuma and others "in their battle for unrestricted access to state funds."

Gordhan, appointed finance minister in December, is in his second stint in this role. His appointment followed a Cabinet shuffle by Zuma that saw the value of the currency drop dramatically.

Noting a further drop in the rand after the Aug. 23 news of the summons, the institute said that "if this disturbing attack on Mr. Gordhan by the Hawks continues," credit rating agencies will downgrade the rand to "junk" status.

This "will have devastating consequences for South Africa, especially the poorest of the poor," it said.

South Africa is "already suffering enormously with the highest levels of unemployment" recorded since apartheid ended in 1994, Jesuit Father Russell Pollitt, director of the Jesuit Institute, said in an Aug. 26 phone interview from Johannesburg.

South Africa's official unemployment rate is close to 30 percent.

Early this month, the ruling African National Congress suffered its worst electoral performance since coming to power 22 years ago. This was widely interpreted as a response to Zuma's mishandling of the finance ministry as well as a court ruling that he violated the constitution by remodeling his home.

"The election results clearly indicate that people are fed up with the self-enrichment" in government, Father Pollitt said.

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