Nhlanhla Nene removed as finance minister
President Jacob Zuma took an unprecedented step on Wednesday night by dismissing Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene – barely two years after he took office.
In a shocking move that saw the rand plummenting to below R15 to the US dollar, Zuma appointed a relatively unknown backbencher Des van Rooyen – who served as a member of the finance committee in Parliament – to replace Nene. Nene, has been at loggerheads with SAA chair Dudu Myeni – who serves as chairperson of the president Jacob Zuma’s education trust.
Tensions between Nene and Myeni worsened after Nene last week turned down a proposal from the SAA board to restructure a re-fleeting transaction with Airbus. Nene reportedly gave a stern warning that should the board proceed without his permission, it would constitute financial misconduct with consequences for the directors. The treasury said in a statement last week that the board’s proposal to restructure the deal would leave the SAA in a materially “worse off financial position where it is unable to meet commitments as they become due”.
Nene is not the first minister to bite the dust after clashing with Myeni. Former Minister Malusi Gigaba was moved from the Public Enterprise Portfolio to Home Affairs after he fought with Nene and SAA was taken away from the current minister Lynne Brown to the treasury after Brown fought with Myeni.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said Zuma’s decision would have a negative impact on the economy.
“Nene fought for the fiscal discipline. The implication of this on the economy is that South Africa is now seen [by investors] as unstable. Former Minister Trevor Manuel served for two terms. For Zuma to fire Nene after a just over a year is a clear indication of instability within his administration. This will have huge implications on job creation. It is very irresponsible,” said Maimane.
Maimane said Nene’s sin was to refuse to tore Zuma’s line by providing funds to the nuclear deal and the president’s private jet- which is estimated at R4-billion.
“He [Zuma] needs someone who can tore the line at the expense of South Africans. He believes he comes first before the people of South Africa. Even the ANC in this case is becoming second,” said Maimane.
Cope spokesman Dennis Bloem describe the decision to fire Nene as the worst ever.
“Ideally, it is President Zuma who should have been axed by the ruling party. His going will end the national drift and the policy paralysis that is crippling the economy. He stands between South Africa and economic growth. He has certainly overstayed his welcome and it is he who should go,” said Bloem. He said the axing of Nene would make the jittery market even more dubious about South Africa’s prospects of shifting economic gears and holding spending.
“Whatever the reason, Zuma has played his worst card ever. If South Africans were blasé up to now, they should wake up to the fact that our government and our economy is in the very worst of hands. Nene must have been under immense pressure not to apply the fiscal brakes,” said Bloem.
The ANC said in a statement on Wednesday night it noted and respected Zuma’s decision to appoint a new finance minister- Van Rooyen, to replace Nene.
“The President has exercised his Constitutional prerogative to appoint a new Minister who we believe has what it takes to lead the Ministry.
We believe his experience and tenure as the ANC National Assembly Whip for both Finance Portfolio Committee and ANC Caucus’ Economic Transformation Cluster will enable him to provide the necessary leadership in the department. We wish the new Minister well in his responsibilities. The former Minister remains a valuable resource in the organisation and we accordingly commend him for the excellent service he rendered to the department and the people of South Africa,” said ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa.
ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana said the decision to remove ministers were the prerogative of the president. He said he knew Van Rooyen when he served as a Mayor of Merafong Municipality. “He [Van Rooyen] left for Parliament where he served he served as a whip of in the economic transformation cluster and the standing committee on finance. Because of that, he attended ETC [economic transformation committee] meetings of the ANC,” said Godongwana. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union [Satawu], which has defended Myeni throughout, last week called on president Zuma to take action against those who were against her.
“SAA has moved from one crisis to another under Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. It’s time President Jacob Zuma brought this state-owned entity under his fold.
Last week, SAA chair Dudu Myeni, confirmed that the Hawks were investigating the airline’s financial affairs. It now appears the investigation will go beyond SAA’s finances and probe a plot to sabotage the national carrier.
News of the plot came to light on Friday, when SAA Pilots Association head, Captain John Harty, was summoned to Douglasdale police station for questioning by several members of the Hawks. Harty was questioned about his alleged involvement in recruiting technicians to interfere with the functioning of an aircraft rudder of a craft flown by a black pilot. Appropriately, Harty was quizzed about his understanding of treason, because if successfully carried out, the plot would result in the loss of hundreds of passenger lives. In light of this, SATAWU calls for the immediate suspension of Captain Harty as the allegations put to him are serious and tantamount to treason,” the union said in a statement.