/ 6 May 2024

Korner Talk: Pravin Gordhan is Dr Evil

Pravin Gordhan
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Gulshan Khan/AFP)
Graphic Khaya Text 1000px

If he moved his right pinky finger to the corner of his mouth, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan would resemble Dr Evil, the fictional character from the comedy movie series Austin Powers

And it is not only the bald head, chubby cheeks and the sadistic scowl stationed on both Gordhan’s and Dr Evil’s faces that illuminates their lasting likeness. 

Rather, it is that both men are renowned for hatching schemes to terrorise those around them — wreaking havoc on all and sundry with the riveting ruse that what they are doing is for the good of the people. 

Nothing accentuated Gordhan’s reign of terrorising state-owned entities (SOE) more than his revelations last week that power utility Eskom, logistics firm Transnet and South African Airways had, together, lost a staggering R227 billion through corruption, fraud and bribery over the last five years — with him at the helm of the ministry overseeing the country’s parastatals. 

Responding to a written question by Farhat Essack, DA MP and the party’s spokesperson on public enterprises, Gordhan did his best to put the proverbial lipstick on the dirty pig, admitting that Eskom alone accounted for more than R203.1 billion in losses, but that the government was remedying the crisis. 

“In addressing the recommendations of the state capture commission, the department formed working groups with [the] Special Investigating Unit, state organs and other enforcement agencies to implement proclamations relating to maladministration concerning the affairs of SOCs [state-owned companies],” Gordhan wrote.

“This initiative resulted in the employment of a civil litigation strategy to recover funds associated with SOC losses sustained during the state capture era and other forms of administrative corruption.” 

The state capture excuses the pathetic public enterprises minister has parroted during his tenure have been akin to his Mini-Me, a valuable accomplice to trot out every time he comes under fire for his failures. 

To explain, Mini-Me was Dr Evil’s pint-sized sidekick, who had little dialogue in the Austin Powers movies but was always available to carry out his surrogate father’s insidious ideas. 

The “I am fighting state capture” ruse has been Gordhan’s Mini-Me, masking the muddled ministerial years in charge. 

For one, Transnet — which posted record profits in the billions of rand for successive years, including shipping a high of 76 million tonnes of coal in 2017 — announced a loss of more than R5.7 billion in September for the financial year ending 31 March 2023. 

Yet whenever the public demanded accountability from him, pointing out that the economic levers have regressed with him in charge, Gordhan consistently brought out Mini-Me, saying those questioning him were proponents of state capture, with neither an explanation nor proof of his assertions. 

“There are people amongst us, and perhaps outside as well, who perhaps don’t want these SOEs to find themselves on the right track, because they would like to explore the possibility of state capture version two,” Gordhan remarked, during a public lecture at Wits University’s School of Governance. 

“You are the paid servants of the people I am talking about, people who want corruption to continue. All of you, you speak the same language. Now, just remember, you are not going to intimidate us,” he added, chastising the people calling out his lack of responsibility. 

It is just as well, then, that the ANC has not revealed Gordhan among its veterans — such as former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe and former deputy president David Mabuza — crisscrossing the country trying to convince a confused electorate to give the governing party one more five-year chance to continue South Africa’s slide to failed statehood. 

Mind you, Gordhan announced in March that he would retire from active politics after the 29 May elections. 

Not that Gordhan would have honoured the call to campaign for the ANC — having a reputation as a man who would sooner iron his penis than do door-to-door stops for the 112-year-old organisation. 

Just as well because the governing party has its work cut out for it during this election season, having to deal with its former president, Jacob “Nine Wasted Years” Zuma, launching a new political formation set to take a chunk of the ANC’s votes, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. 

No sooner had the ANC announced that Zuma would be hauled to its national disciplinary committee (NDC) on 7 May for allegedly breaching its rules by campaigning for another party, than secretary general Fikile Mbalula postponed the hearing to after the elections. 

Mbalula, on Sunday, said he feared that the disciplinary proceedings would be marred by violence after the uMKhonto weSizwe party, Zuma’s nascent stokvel, said it would send its members to Luthuli House — the ANC’s national headquarters in Johannesburg — to support its unelected leader at his hearing. 

“We have informed the NDC to put this matter in abeyance because they don’t want something that happened in the past like when the DA came here and then there was violence,” Mbalula said, alluding to the 2017 fight between the ANC and DA during the official opposition’s march to Luthuli House.

Not that any of that will concern Gordhan, who, having put governance in abeyance, will cackle wickedly into the sunset after five years of no accountability.