Following days of speculation, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday removed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and immediately swore in former SA Reserve Bank (SARB) governor Tito Mboweni as his replacement.
The president made the announcement in Cape Town after calls for Nene’s removal following the revelations he made last week at the State Capture inquiry about meeting the Gupta family and questions over whether he might have helped his son in a business deal.
Ramaphosa said Nene submitted his resignation on Tuesday morning.
“Now, as a consequence of these developments, minister Nene this morning submitted a letter of resignation to me in which he requested that I relieve him of his position as minister of finance of the Republic of South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.
“After due consideration of the circumstances surrounding this matter and in the interests of good governance I have decided to accept his resignation,” he added.
Ramaphosa thanked Nene for his work, which he said was served under difficult circumstances and often under “great pressure”.
He said Nene’s resignation proved his commitment to the country “in the wake of errors of judgement”.
Ramaphosa was careful to note that Nene has not been judged to have been implicated in allegations of wrongdoing.
Nene was appointed finance minister by former president Jacob Zuma in 2014 but removed in late 2015, reportedly because he refused to approve deals aimed at benefiting the Gupta family. He was replaced by Des van Rooyen, seen as compromised, and replaced days later by Pravin Gordhan. Nene returned to the position after Ramaphosa was appointed in February 2018.
Last week, at the State Capture inquiry, Nene admitted to meeting members of the Gupta family multiple times between 2009 and 2014, including at their Saxonworld home and at one of their businesses, Sahara Computers.
His testimony contradicted his comments in an interview with eNCAin 2016 when he said:
“Look, I bumped into them at public gatherings once or twice, but I’ve never had an engagement and I’ve never been asked by them to do anything for them.”
Nene did not inform Ramaphosa of his meetings with the Gupta family before he was reappointed finance minister in February 2018. He has since admitted that he should have disclosed the meetings to the new president.
In an apology issued on Friday, Nene said public officials regularly attend gatherings with various stakeholders but he should have met members of the Gupta family in his office after he became aware of the controversies surrounding them.
“In return for the trust and faith that you have placed on me, I owe you conduct as a public office bearer that is beyond reproach. But I am human too, I do make mistakes, including those of poor judgement,” he said in his Friday statement.
Nene’s apology came after a report questioned whether his son, Siyabonga Nene, might have unduly benefited from decisions made by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) while he chaired the institution as deputy finance minister. Nene denied any wrongdoing.
Nene has been seen as both a Ramaphosa ally and bulwark against corruption. He testified last week about how he was fired by Zuma in 2015 after he refused to sign a deal with Russia to develop nuclear energy plants in South Africa, a plan criticised as unnecessary, a risk to the country’s budget, and a Trojan horse for corruption.
The revelations on the meetings with the Gupta family and questions over whether his son unduly benefited from the PIC were raised after the EFF had threatened to expose secrets about Nene unless he resigns.
Opposition parties the EFF and DA were adamant the finance minister should be removed after his integrity was questioned. On Monday, it was reported that Nene called Ramaphosa asking to be relieved of his duties. Nene’s planned trip to an International Monetary Fund event in Indonesia was cancelled on Tuesday.
The EFF’s public comments on Nene were one of the catalysts that led to his removal and Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that anyone with information that can help the State Capture inquiry must come forward and testify “honestly, fully and completely”.
“Get ready for your first Cabinet meeting tomorrow,” he told the new minister, Mboweni.
Mboweni was SARB governor for 10 years to 2009. The 59-year-old built the nation’s foreign reserves from under $10-billion to almost $40-billion, according to Bloomberg, before he went into business.
Ramaphosa said Mboweni has the necessary experience in finance, economics and governance to succeed as finance minister.
“This moment calls for strong, capable and steady leadership that will unlock the various new opportunities that have been identified by social partners, particularly during the Jobs Summit, so we can grow our economy and transform it,” said Ramaphosa.
There was speculation that Ramaphosa would use the opportunity to reshuffle the Cabinet and sack ministers who were seen as key Zuma allies, but he only replaced Nene. DM