Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan

No one is above the law in South Africa. Not the president, nor any of his executives, including Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

This view is shared by respected critics, organised business, the banking sector and individuals who have aired dismay and warnings of the consequences of a specialist police unit squaring up to arrest him.

These critics have left the Zuma administration in no doubt that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) is engaged in a dire action against the Treasury boss.

Its investigation into the creation in 2007 of an intelligence unit at the SA Revenue Service (Sars), when Gordhan presided over it, has been going on for months.

In March there was an exchange between them, and it flared up again in May. The guns fell silent in the build-up to the local government elections, only to be fired again this week. That pause was no coincidence.

Gordhan argued that the special unit was lawfully created to help smash organised crime. It comprised about 26 people, on a Sars staff of 15 000, but clearly the Hawks believe its creation broke the law.

Gordhan objected to Hawks' treatment. They had no reason to probe him, he argued, it had all been extremely distressing.

Public sympathy is clearly with a competent finance minister who is working to save this country from a debilitating credit rating. He has been good for the country.

But that support should not cloud public judgement on whether Gordhan has cases to answer over that unit, or on his treatment of a retired tax official.

President Zuma said on Thursday he could not interfere, that the law had to take its course. He could intervene, however, without violating the constitution: tell the Hawks in plain terms that they must now act decisively.

The Hawks say their investigation is done. The costs of it to the country are painful and mounting, they must get on with it. Or not.