/ 24 March 2021

Insults fly in final round of Mpofu vs Gordhan

South African Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane Appears In Court On An Alleged Perjury Charge
Advocate Dali Mpofu represents. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Advocate Dali Mpofu on Tuesday lashed out at Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s lawyer at the Zondo commission, telling her to “shut up” as he concluded the minister’s cross-examination on behalf of former South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane.

The outburst came as advocate Michelle le Roux asked the minister to elaborate on how it felt to be branded a racist by Moyane and his lawyers.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said he believed the minister had already dealt with this, but Gordhan asked if he could make a short statement, despite having said earlier that his record as an activist and politician attested that he was not racist.

Mpofu objected and, when Le Roux sought to respond, he snapped: “Shut up”, as much at her as at the minister.

Zondo firmly reminded him more than once that “I’m still in charge here”, but Mpofu complained that he still had the floor.

The exchange made for an unseemly end to an evening session that was meant to last one hour but stretched to four. Mpofu picked up where he left off on 1 December, returning to the now discredited narrative of a “rogue” intelligence unit in Sars set up in 2007 while Gordhan was commissioner and, along the way, again repeatedly accusing the minister of ill-treating black people.

Mpofu raised whatever character criticism he could find of the minister in his long and ultimately successful legal battle with public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over her findings on the intelligence unit.

But for Mpofu it remained relevant because it went towards the minister’s character.

Gordhan had been condescending towards an African woman in the person of Mkhwebane and had “a propensity to insult people in a vitriolic manner”, he charged. 

Gordhan conceded that his tone in an affidavit may have been termed condescending, but that, ultimately, the courts were scathing of bias on Mkhwebane’s part and set aside her findings.

“We are now going back to the racism allegation of last time,” Le Roux said in a plea to Zondo not to allow this line of questioning.

Mpofu interjected: “It is my cross-examination and she must just sit down”.

He then asked whether Gordhan considered state capture a crime and had reported Moyane to the police for as much, considering he was of the view that the commissioner had furthered state capture through his actions at the revenue service.

In November, Gordhan had told the commission that he believed Moyane contributed to the process that saw him first falsely charged with fraud and theft, and later fired as finance minister because the commissioner was among those who wanted a more malleable minister in the portfolio.

Replying to Mpofu on Tuesday night, Gordhan said to bring charges he would have had to identify particular acts of corruption and had not done so.

Mpofu taunted him for taking 10 minutes to respond to the question and for “rambling”.

He then turned to three reports that affirmed that the intelligence gathering unit in Sars had been set up illegally — those compiled by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, retired Judge Frank Kroon and KPMG.

Gordhan replied that all three have been discredited and that Kroon has apologised for finding that the intelligence unit was unlawful.

“So none of the three have any legs left at all,” he said.

Mpofu then snapped that the minister, as a socialist, should know the concept of space and time, and that he was not a prophet. 

His inference was that although the reports may have been overturned, as were Mkhwebane’s findings, Gordhan did not know earlier that this would happen and, therefore, his arrogance was unforgivable.

“I don’t claim to be a prophet at all,” the minister said with some resignation.

In early December the high court in Pretoria set aside Mkhwebane’s findings against Gordhan in a blistering judgment that said these were the product of a “wholly irrational process, bereft of any sound legal or factual basis”.