Late one evening a little more than a year ago, I received a call from a municipal employee inviting me to an urgent meeting with a bunch of local government politicians the next morning.
It was not an unusual request for my line of work and so I obliged.
The following morning, I went to the said hotel in Summerstrand and waited at the foyer.
Minutes later, in walked Pravin Gordhan, alone, looking casual and relaxed. We exchanged greetings and found a seat. At the time he was cooperative governance minister and had spent a week troubleshooting in Nelson Mandela Bay.
On that morning he had come to complain – as politicians do – about a story he felt was not covered comprehensively.
At the tail end of the meeting, I asked him what he thought our municipalities needed to get right to become more efficient. Two things, he said. “We need to build capacity and keep the dirty politics out of governance.”
It was a simple response which, in hindsight, has become so profoundly ironic in the face of yesterday’s unprecedented events. Gordhan now stands accused of fraud. South Africa’s top prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, says Gordhan and his team at SARS unlawfully approved the payment of a R1.1-million retirement package to former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.
And so on November 2, Gordhan is expected to stand in the dock in a court in Pretoria to answer to these charges.
Predictably, yesterday’s announcement by the National Prosecuting Authority sent the rand tumbling.
It wiped off billions from our banking sector.
It threw our nation back into that dark hole of uncertainty with which we have become so familiar.
Among ordinary South Africans, different narratives emerge.
Gordhan’s critics particularly believe that the charges he faces will finally allow him his muchanticipated day in court.
They believe that rather than being trialled through a court of public opinion where he is largely presented as the saint he is not, next month Gordhan will be given an opportunity to answer on a credible platform about all his activities at SARS.
There is some merit to this argument, particularly in the face of our founding democratic principle that no one is above the law.
In fact I am of the view that, regardless of the immediate consequences to our economy, if Gordhan stole, abused his power or acted recklessly with public money while at SARS, he must be charged and must face the full might of the law.
No public servant should be shielded from answering to charges brought against them.
I believe this with the same conviction as I do that President Jacob Zuma must answer to hundreds of corruption charges that still hang over his head.
This is why I find it disgraceful that, on this matter, Abrahams disagrees.
Meanwhile, the case against Gordhan is at best highly questionable.
As some of the best legal minds in our country have stated before, based on what has been presented so far, the charges of fraud put to him and the laws cited to prove contravention simply do not align.
Add to this the timing of the charges – just weeks before the mid-term budget speech and days after Gordhan gave evidence that potentially shows that the president sold his power to the Gupta family – and it is reasonable to believe that this case is a politically orchestrated smear campaign, one that is designed to ultimately provide logical grounds to remove Gordhan as finance minister.
Surely no right-thinking person could question why an alleged fraudster should not be allowed to continue at the helm of the public purse, right? This is precisely the issue. If Gordhan is innocent, I believe his legal team will poke every hole there is in the state’s case and have him vindicated.
It is what happens until that day that should keep all of us awake at night.
It is the potential destruction that is yet be to unleashed on us in an unrelenting pursuit of narrow political gains.
It is the consistent hammering at the legitimacy of what should be sacred public institutions meant to uphold the rule of law.
It is the dirty politics that have come to define our governance.
It is the unquenchable desire to win at all costs, regardless of the consequences to our lives and those of our children.
The ANC is yet again presented with an opportunity to be on the right side of history.
What will it take to act?