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South African academics ask Zuma to ‘stop the war’ on finance minister

South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is a hunted man. Mujahid Safodien/EPA

South Africa’s minister of finance Pravin Gordhan is again on a collision course with the country’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations. The row has unsettled the country’s already shaky currency, the rand. It’s also prompted a group of senior academics from nine universities to pen an open letter. The letter, which first appeared on local news site the Rand Daily Mail, is republished below.

“In December 2015 the shocking decision by President Jacob Zuma to fire Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene led about 70 senior academic economists from across South African universities to write an open letter to the Business Day to express our outrage at the capriciousness of that decision. We also warned of the likely consequences for the country’s fragile economy.

That that decision was politically motivated has been borne out by subsequent events. Significantly, Mr Nene’s redeployment to the Brics Bank, ostensibly the reason for his removal, has not materialised. The President continues to use every platform to sing the praises of the little known backbencher he appointed in Nene’s place. He also frequently expresses bitterness at the role of (so called) white monopoly capitalists whom he claims forced a reversal of his decision to appoint Desmond van Rooyen.

At the time and in the circumstances, some commentators thought that the new Minister Pravin Gordhan would be safe from similar politically motivated attacks. How wrong they were. Since earlier this year, Minister Gordhan has been subjected to an unrelenting attack from the Hawks. They have been investigating the Minister’s alleged role in the establishment of the so-called "rogue” spy unit when he was the South African Revenue Services’ (SARS) Commissioner. A few days ago the Daily Maverick reported that the Hawks were “circling” the Minister again.

These events have once again compelled us to put pen to paper to express our outrage and warn of the dangers to our still very fragile economy. There are predictions of zero growth in 2016; stubbornly high unemployment; persistent poverty and inequality and a volatile currency. This is not the time – if there ever was – to be playing such dangerous games with the lives and well-being of all sectors of our economy and society, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

We say all this with the same qualifiers we employed in our December 2015 letter. These include our recognition that Ministers of Finance do not enjoy any special privileges or protection. Everyone is subject to the rule of law and the Constitution. Finally, our stance does not mean that all of us share with equal enthusiasm the Treasury and government’s fiscal framework.

We urge the President, the Cabinet and the African National Congress’ National Executive Committee (NEC) to assist in bringing this dangerous set of events to an end in the best way possible in the interests of our country and our economy. It is time for real leaders in the NEC, the Cabinet and in governing alliance partners the SA Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions to stand up to the tyrannical and despotic behaviour on display here. Yet again we stand on the edge of an economic precipice.

We end expressing by similar sentiments to those used in our December 2015 letter: As senior academics in Economics and related disciplines we express our unambiguous and urgent concern both about these events in general, about the unseemly attacks on the Minister of Finance and about the general lack of progress in tackling the massive and growing crisis of low growth, poverty, unemployment and inequality as well as the crisis of governance at our state owned enterprises.“

Collectively supported by:

University of Cape Town

Professor Haroon Bhorat, Professor Anthony Black, Professor Faizel Ismail, Professor Murray Leibbrandt, Professor Martin Wittenberg, Professor Ingrid Woolard, Professor Alan Hirsh, Professor Cally Ardington, Professor Christopher Rooney, Dr Co-Pierre Georg, Professor David Kaplan, Professor Don Ross, Mr Grant Smith, Ms Katherine Eyal, Ms Kezia Lilenstein, Professor Lawrence Edwards, Associate Professor Malcolm Keswell, Associate Professor Mark Ellyne, Professor Martine Visser, Professor Mike Morris, Mr Morne Oosthuizen, Professor Nicoli Nattrass, Associate Professor Tony Leiman, Toughedah Jacobs, Sarah Marriott, Adaiah Lilenstein, Jabulile Monnakgotla, Amy Thornton, Shakira Jeppie, Associate Professor Justine Burns

University of Pretoria

Professor Steve Koch, Professor Elsabe Loots, Professor Riel Franzsen, Professor James Blignaut, Professor Jan van Heerden

Sol Plaatje University

Botho Enele and Mandla Mthembu

Rhodes University

Professor Robert van Niekerk

North West University

Wilma Viviers

University of Stellenbosch

Servaas van der Berg, Stan du Plessis, Rulof P Burger, Nick Vink, Theo Kleynhans, Professor Andrie Schoombee, Professor Estian Calitz, Professor Ada Jansen, Professor Johan Fourie, Professor Ben Smit, Professor Ronelle Burger, Professor Johann Kirsten

University of the Western Cape

Julian May

University of Witwatersrand

Professor Imraan Valodia, Professor Vishnu Padayachee, Dr Gareth Roberts, Fatima Bhoola, David Francis, Associate Professor Daniela Casale, Professor Dori Posel, Lumkile Mondi, Nimisha Naik, Associate Professor Uma Kollamparambil, Kenneth Creamer

Private Sector

Iraj Abedian – Chief Economist, Pan-African Investment & Research Services

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