South Africa’s new president replaces finance minister in cabinet reshuffle

Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister on Monday. Nene returns to that post after being fired by former president Jacob Zuma in late 2015. Another person fired by Zuma, Pravin Gordhan, will rejoin the Cabinet as public enterprises minister.

Ramaphosa has vowed to clean up the graft that has weakened one of Africa’s top economies. Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle is seen as part of that effort.

Both Nene and Gordhan are highly respected former finance ministers and it’s believed their return could help strengthen the economy.

Nene aimed to reduce government spending during his previous stint as finance minister, before being fired by Zuma in December 2015 and replaced with unknown parliamentary member Des van Rooyen. Gordhan, who replaced van Rooyen four days later, was quite popular with South Africa investors during his time as finance minister.  However Zuma fired him in March 2017. Many financial experts believe the firing briefly sent South Africa into a recession.

The man who replaced Gordhan, Malusi Gigaba, has been criticized for his ties to the Gupta business family. The Guptas currently face accusations using their ties to Zuma to manipulate state companies for thjeir own financial benefit. However Ramaphosa chose to keep Gigaba as part of his new government.

Mr. Ramaphosa retained several ministers appointed by Zuma but demoted them from key government departments. Gigaba, for example, is now back at the home affairs ministry. A total of ten ministers were dropped altogether from cabinet, a majority of them key Zuma allies.

Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle was met with sharp criticism from opposition leaders. One appointment in particular, the appointment of ANC deputy president David Mabuza to the  role of South African Deputy President, drew the ire of Mmusi Maimane, who heads the Democratic Alliance party. Maimane suggested that Ramaphosa’s moves were more about appealing to his base within the ANC than anything else.

“Ramaphosa’s new cabinet will serve the ANC, not South Africa,” said Maimane,

Mabuza has not served as a cabinet minister before but he was a key ally of Zuma.

“Ramaphosa’s decision to side with scandal-ridden Mabuza undermines the integrity of his stated commitment to fight corruption and rebuild from the tatters of the Zuma decade,” Maimane said.

Mabuza has been accused of involvement in corruption in awarding tenders. He denies any wrongdoing.

Ramaphosa defending the changes in a brief speech.

“In making these changes, I have been conscious of the need to balance continuity and stability with the need for renewal, economic recovery and accelerated transformation.”

Ramaphosa also appointed a former rival to the presidential office, selecting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to direct planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Dlamini-Zuma was married to ex-president Zuma for over a decade and has four children with him.

Rampahosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma, the former president’s ex-wife, in a December race for the leadership of the ANC. His victory in that race helped boost his chances of succeeding Zuma as president.

Other cabinet appointments include: Trade unionist and ANC National Chairperson Gwede Mantashe, to head of the mining ministry and Jeff Radebe to the role of energy minister.