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Religious leaders pledge support to Pravin Gordhan

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So, a rabbi, a priest and an imam walk into the Treasury… Last week Wednesday, four executive members of the National Religious Leaders Council (NRLC), including Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, met with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at his office in Pretoria.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Sep 14, 2016

They requested the meeting to show unequivocal public support for him and the National Treasury, and hear the minister’s side of the sustained attacks on his integrity from various quarters, particularly from the Hawks. The SA Jewish Report spoke exclusively to the Chief Rabbi about the encounter.

The NRLC urgently requested the meeting when the beleaguered minister was in China at the G20 Summit. Rabbi Goldstein said Minister Gordhan laid out the intimidation and bullying he has been facing from the Hawks (the police’s priority crimes investigative unit) since his budget speech in February, purportedly over his role in the establishment of a so-called “rogue spy unit” at the South African Revenue Service when he headed that institution.

They also discussed corruption and state capture to serve political and economic agendas. The firing of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015, the four-day tenure of Minister “Des” van Rooyen as finance minister, and Minister Gordhan’s reappointment were also covered, as was how the ongoing shenanigans will hurt the poor disproportionately.


The Chief Rabbi cited the verse in the Torah (in Vayikra): “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour.” In Minister Gordhan, he sees a man of integrity and ability being persecuted for doing his job, and asking the difficult questions about corruption in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as SAA, Eskom and the prosed nuclear energy deal.

But isn’t this picking sides in the ANC’s fierce, internecine succession battle? “No. It’s our responsibility to help our country,” said Rabbi Goldstein, “to take a public stand against the evil harassment of Minister Gordhan.

“It may seem an extreme measure, but the circumstances are extreme. It’s our moral duty as religious leaders, as the custodians of integrity and decency, to stand up for what’s right.”

Rabbi Goldstein observed that his predecessor, the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, apologised to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the Jewish community had not been more vocal in condemning apartheid. “We cannot be silent now in the face of the corruption that can destroy South Africa.”

He noted that South Africa has a high percentage of people affiliated to organised religions, so religious leaders, including from the Jewish community, have influence and some authority.

When asked whether he appreciated the irony in a senior leader of the South African Communist Party turning to religion for support, the Chief Rabbi chuckled: “South Africa is full of ironies”, he remarked, relating how SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande ,Minister of Higher Education, had in fact encouraged the NRLC to approach Gordhan.

“We need to move beyond the labels, and do what is in the best interests of South Africa,” said Rabbi Goldstein.

This meeting was the start of a process of activism by the NRLC, which has requested meetings with the Hawks and the “top six” leadership of the ANC to discuss these issues.


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