South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has conducted his first major cabinet reshuffle, sacking several Zuma-era ministers and bringing back respected former colleagues as he looks to stamp his authority on the new administration.
After consultations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria lasting several hours, Ramaphosa replaced a swathe of Zuma appointees, some of whom have been tainted by allegations of influence-peddling, with several big name appointments including Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan, and David Mabuza as deputy president.
Bolstering hope of a shift in economic policy, Ramaphosa announced the return of Nene, the respected former finance minister whose sacking by Jacob Zuma sparked market turmoil in late 2015, to his old portfolio. Nene’s return to the frontbench – he replaces controversial Zuma appointee Malusi Gigaba who moves to Home Affairs – is likely to be welcomed by investors as a sign that the government will return to the kind of fiscally conservative policies that were absent from the final days of the Zuma administration.
Nene was sacked after falling out with Zuma over the funding and management of state-owned enterprises, including South African Airways, and was known to oppose a multi-billion rand nuclear power deal backed by Zuma. Since his sacking, the country has suffered repeated downgrades by credit ratings agencies and struggled to regain the confidence of investors, compounded by the sacking of like-minded finance minister Pravin Gordhan in 2017. Gordhan has himself been redrafted into government by Ramaphosa as public enterprises minister, a key role in the oversight of South Africa’s unwieldy state-owned enterprises, which were at the centre of graft allegations throughout the Zuma era. He has recently served as a member of parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises.
Nene’s return prompts Gigaba’s surprise move to Home Affairs. Rumours have swirled around the fate of Gigaba ever since Ramaphosa’s assumption of the party leadership, but the ex-finance minister lasted long enough to deliver a final budget statement last week, in which he controversially raised VAT by 1% in a bid to boost state coffers. His responsibility for that unpopular decision may provide political cover for his replacement, but his retention in cabinet hints at the compromises that lie behind Ramaphosa’s reshuffle.
In a move that will encourage the mining industry, unpopular mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, responsible for the botched introduction of the Mining Charter, has been replaced by ANC veteran Gwede Mantashe.
Only last week, Nene demurred when asked by African Business Magazine whether he would reconsider rejoining the government. Since leaving office, Nene has taken on several roles in the private sector and academia.
“I think I’ve got my hands full…with all this exposure I think there’s some exciting stuff one can get involved with other than being in government. It’s very difficult to answer that question because when it comes, there are lots of things to consider including being of service to the nation.”
David Thomas in Johannesburg
African Business Magazine will carry an exclusive interview with new finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in a South Africa special report in the April issue.