Finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Picture: Linda Mthombeni

Cape Town - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday drew a line in the sand with tax commissioner Tom Moyane, making their power struggle more public still.

This comes as ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe gave the party's backing to the Treasury boss and said there was a plot to undermine him.

Gordhan told a business community meeting on Friday that Moyane's “defiance” and reluctance to “account to the new minister” was suspect.

He confirmed, as did Mantashe, that a question sheet from the Hawks was sent to him four days before he delivered the annual budget on Wednesday.

The Hawks probed the existence of a rogue intelligence unit with the South African Revenue Service and Mantashe said the move was clearly meant to undermine the minister before he tabled a budget seen as critical to put the country's economy back on an even keel.

“The ANC commends the minister of finance and his team for the hard work and the energy that they invested thus far. We further reiterate our full confidence in the minister and his team for the work they continue to do,” Mantashe said in statement on Friday.

“It is unfortunate that there are now initiatives that are intended to undermine this work, reverse the gains our economy has made and have a destabilising effect in the long term,” he added.

Read also: ANC backs Gordhan 100% - Mantashe

“We are extremely concerned that four days before the minister delivered the budget speech, questions from the Hawks were sent to the minister. The timing of these questions indicates clearly that there was intention to distract the minister during this important time. It is even more disconcerting that these questions were leaked to the media.”

Moyane was absent from a pre-budget media briefing by Gordhan on Wednesday at which the finance minister and the SARS commissioner traditionally share the podium.

Questioned about this, Gordhan told reporters that there were still “issues” to be resolved and that he hoped to do so soon.

He said, however, that he had full confidence in the staff of the revenue service, which he headed from 1999 to 2009 before becoming finance minister in that year.

Moyane had been driving the narrative that an illicit spying unit was set up on Gordhan's watch. Media reports this week have said Gordhan has threatened to resign unless Moyane was replaced.

These followed on the heels of a comment by President Jacob Zuma, who bowed to pressure in December to bring Gordhan back to the key portfolio, that he still believed former backbencher David van Rooyen was the best qualified person for the job.