The perils of being Minister Nene

2015-02-17 10:00

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Smart money doesn’t follow the state of the nation address (Sona) because the event consists of nothing more than adults in Halloween costumes.

We live in a democracy, and smart money understands that to deny the good and the great the chance to turn themselves into idiots would be a gross violation of human rights.

Instead, smart money follows the minister of finance, because his utterances affect investments and the country’s economic growth. He is the actual CEO of South Africa and has to assure investors he has the wherewithal to rev up the country’s limping economy.

Nhlanhla Nene will need all the luck he can get over the next few days. He must fill the shoes of his former boss, Pravin Gordhan, as well as those belonging to Trevor Manuel.

He also has to boost confidence in a business world that saw a debacle in Parliament with a big bold message that read: “Blacks can’t govern”. As we speak, many South African companies are investing outside our borders and not repatriating their profits.

This denies the country the chance to create the new jobs it desperately needs. Nene must convince them the rule of law still prevails, at least outside Parliament, and so their money is safe here.

He also has the unenviable job of convincing them his boss is no fool; that even though he makes Mugabe-esque noises, he is no dictator. Nene must also convince South Africans the Treasury is not there for the president’s family and friends.

Nene has a natural flaw. He has all the decorum and respectability of a well-raised African, which makes him an obedient and unquestioning follower of government’s often confusing and conflicting policies.

He seems too shy to engage with important business stakeholders on a visible scale, because someone decided to give that task to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The department of trade and industry, with its ever-increasing complexity, makes it hard for Nene to unleash economic growth. In a way, it has become a competitor department and gatekeeper.

Our foreign affairs department is making it impossible for people to come into the country. South Africa’s current and potential trading partners are retaliating, further shutting out potential economic growth.

The politicians, like most of the population, are showing dangerous and unprecedented forms of xenophobia, but Nene must still convince foreign investors they can safely bring their money here.

When times are tough, nationalists generally slip into hateful and narrow “patriotism”, which soon degenerates into xenophobia and tribalism. This leads to a vicious cycle, as money flees the country and the people start to turn on each other.

After Sona, a respectable and a peaceful man I’ve known for 30 years put up a post on Facebook with a picture of himself and a traditional weapon.

He wrote: “Malema u are in trouble today. Sesifikile uzoyisutha induku (we have arrived, and you will get enough of the knobkerrie).”

Someone commented: “He needs to be beaten with that kerrie and wake up in hospital.”

I hope they are joking and no one else feels that way.

Eyes may have been on the Sona sideshow, but the goods will have to come from Nene. He has to be brave to lead and change his party’s view rather than be a slave to it. He can start by alleviating the pressure created by the power crisis on small business owners.

He must also reduce business tax, which will help businesses retain more money and keep more people employed. South Africa is about to implode and you are the last man standing in your party, Minister Nene.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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