JOHANNESBURG: South African President Jacob Zuma promoted deputy finance minister Nhlanhla Nene to finance minister on Sunday, replacing the widely respected Pravin Gordhan in a new cabinet line-up to start a second five-year term in office.
The day after a glitzy inauguration in Pretoria, the 72-year-old Zuma also confirmed millionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy president, a decision likely to go down well with investors and the private sector.
Mining minister Susan Shabangu, who has been criticised for her handling of a strike in the platinum mines now in its fifth month, was replaced by Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a lawyer and former deputy minister in the prison service.
Nene, 55, has been number two at the Treasury in Africa’s most advanced economy since 2008 and is seen as a capable technocrat familiar to domestic and international investors. His first name means ‘Luck’ in Zulu.
He was a union shop steward in the early 1990s but since the end of apartheid in 1994 has worked his way up through the ranks of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), first in local government and then on parliamentary financial committees.
Although there are no doubts about his technical ability, some analysts said his lack of political muscle - especially compared to Gordhan and his predecessor Trevor Manuel - could undermine the Treasury’s ability to continue to reduce South Africa’s budget deficit after a 2009 recession.
“What I question about him is if he can hold his own in terms of policy ideology or if he is going to be imposed on more by the ANC,” said Peter Attard-Montalto, an economist at Nomura in London.
However, others said Nene’s succession to Gordhan, who is being sent to tackle South Africa’s shoddy local government as minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, should not cause too many ructions. “Given Nene’s longstanding Treasury experience, there will be a sense of policy continuity,” said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered in London.
“Investors will be reassured that not much is likely to change in terms of overall policy direction - that its essential centrist, market-friendliness will remain in place.” Renowned as an engaging communicator, Nene may even ease some of the distrust that exists between the government and private sector.
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