/ 31 August 2023

Ill-health causes Gordhan to miss meeting on former director general’s allegations about SAA

Pravin Gordhan 0981 Dv(3)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan sent an apology, citing illness, on the eve of a meeting of parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises on Thursday where he was due to answer to allegations the former director general of his department made against him in a protected disclosure.

The chairperson of the committee, Khayalethu Magaxa, said in the letter he received late on Wednesday evening, the minister said a specialist doctor had advised him not to travel by plane, hence he could not come to Cape Town for the meeting.

Magaxa said Gordhan asked that the committee schedule another date for a meeting where he would respond to the claims made by Kgathatso Tlhakudi, who was placed on precautionary suspension on 24 June last year and dismissed on 26 May this year.

Thlakudi tried to have his suspension overturned in court.

He claimed it was a bid to stop him exposing wrongdoing in the fraught sale of SAA and the disposal of other state assets, which he said Gordhan was doing not in the national interest, but for the benefit of a select number of people. 

He claimed that he had been sidelined in the sale of the national carrier to the Takatso Consortium.

In subsequent protected disclosure to parliament, he said SAA had been undervalued by R7 billion as part of its takeover by the consortium.

Gordhan has insisted that action was taken against Tlhakudi for unethical conduct, including meddling in the appointment of the department’s director for security and facilities. 

In May, he told the portfolio committee: “As far as we are concerned there is a fabrication of a lot of things around SAA and we rebutted them many times.”

At Gordhan’s request, the committee agreed to hear from him and from Tlhakudi with regard to the protected disclosure separately. Thlakudi appeared on 7 June, and Gordhan was scheduled to respond the following week, but then asked for a postponement to allow him time to study a transcript of the former’s submission.

Magaxa expressed exasperation with the minister’s failure to attend Thursday’s meeting, saying he had hoped to finalise the matter two months ago.

“I am also experiencing some pressure from the speaker’s office. They have already indicated that we are taking too long to finalise this matter, and I am afraid it is not possible to contest them on that,” the chairperson said.

“This was supposed to be a very simple process where the person making the allegation makes a presentation and the person who is alleged, states his case and we just go and make a determination as a committee, including recommendations to the speaker’s office and then the process is out of our hands.”

He added: “I thought that would take a month or two but now we have dragged this matter and in most cases it is the availability of the minister.

“We have a lot of issues to deal with. We still have load-shedding, we still have Denel in trouble … We need to pay attention to those serious challenges that are affecting our country, instead of dealing with this minor issue because to me it is still a very little issue.”

Not only the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has been supportive of Tlhakudi, responded to Gordhan’s apology with scorn and suspicion.

ANC MP Jabulile Mkhwanazi said Gordhan was “playing games” with the committee, although it had accommodated his request not to appear before it on the same day as the former director general.

“And with that agreement I think he is taking us for a ride,” she said.

Democratic Alliance MP Ghaleb Cachalia said the time had come for the committee to summons Gordhan to appear.

But Gordhan found support from ANC MP Nkosinathi Dlamini, who said: “I think we must avoid taking the easy way out of this. It will be easy now to blame the minister and we will fall into a trap of believing our own suspicions that have not been backed by any form of evidence.”

He said the committee had no firm cause to doubt that Gordhan was not well, adding: “I don’t think there is any malice on the part of him.

“Let us not forget the delays that you are complaining about, to a certain extent we have agreed to those delays. Because if we had the sense of urgency that we want to convince ourselves that we have … we should not have agreed to this type of a situation,” he added. 

The committee resolved to call Gordhan to appear before it within the next two weeks. Magaxa said it would be respectful of the minister’s state of health.

“If the committee cannot fly, perhaps the minister will be compelled to fly to him.”

It has been reported that Gordhan has for some time wished to leave active politics, in part for health reasons, but that the president has persuaded him not to do so.

The Competition Commission recently recommended that the Competition Tribunal approve the proposed merger between Takatso Aviation and SAA subject to divestiture and employment conditions.