Max du Preez

Can Mboweni give Ramaphoria a second wind?

2018-10-30 08:36
Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni delivers the 2018 mini-budget in Parliament.

Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni delivers the 2018 mini-budget in Parliament. (Photo: Adrian de Kock)

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It was, for the ANC, a refreshing, brand new, unconventional and radical tactic: honesty. And it works.

If Tito Mboweni sticks to this strategy, he could become South Africa's most effective finance minister, despite being in the job at the most difficult period since 1994.

Last week, Mboweni became the first ANC Cabinet member to speak freely outside ANC orthodoxy (colonialism, national democratic revolution, blah blah blah) when he delivered his Medium Term Budget Statement.

He called his critics' bluff by being brutally honest: all our money has been stolen or wasted; our state has been mismanaged and brutalised; the economy is in dire straits and it isn't growing.

So if you want more state intervention or social spending or a massive civil service, then you tell me where we will get the money from. Another VAT increase? Begging from the IMF that would then force its market fundamentalist prescriptions upon us? 

Mboweni didn't stop there. All state-owned enterprises should be reconfigured. There are no more holy cows. If SAA can't be saved, it should be closed down. The walls between the private and public sectors should be broken down. The Cabinet should ideally be cut to 20 ministers. The state's capacity is weak and should urgently be rebuilt. Corruption, corruption, corruption.

President Cyril Ramaphosa sat with a huge grin a few metres from him: that's my man.

Perhaps Tito can give Ramaphoria a second wind.

It helps that he hasn't been part of the debilitating, bitter faction fighting in the ANC the last few years. He is self-assured – arrogant? – enough not to care much about what his comrades say behind his back. He can afford to be a maverick. He can dare go where Pravin Gordhan, Malusi Gigaba and Nhlanhla Nene couldn't. He didn't apply for this job and didn't need it.

Mboweni was a Cabinet minister in Nelson Mandela's first cabinet. He was governor of the Reserve Bank. An international adviser to Goldman Sachs. A successful farmer. He has shown that he doesn't suffer fools gladly. And he knows what has to be done now.

Mboweni and Ramaphosa are building a fireproof wall between the Zuma ANC and the Ramaphosa ANC with a new Thuma Mina narrative of helping South Africa rise from the ashes. (Ramaphosa hopes we will all quickly forget that he was Zuma's deputy for three years…)

Mboweni's quote from Isaiah 58:12 describes it well: "Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

Two days later Ramaphosa continued with the brave new tone at the investment conference: talk of white monopoly capital should end now, he said. And he boasted that local business has ended its investment strike with pledges of investments totalling R290bn.

The R290bn is not the magic. The magic is the new relationship between government and the private sector. It is a precondition for a revival of our economy.

I wonder if Mboweni has researched the man after whom his parents named him, Marshal Tito, leader of the old Yugoslavia.

Tito was a ruthless dictator and a socialist, but he was different from the other dictators of the former Soviet bloc. He clashed with Stalin and broke Moscow's stranglehold on his country in the 1960s.

He was a maverick, and he annoyed his Soviet masters endelessly by co-founding the Non-Aligned Movement in 1968. He was more open minded and free-thinking than any of his peers in the region, allowing his citizens to travel and tourists to visit. 

In 1983 I travelled through his country at length with my green apartheid passport.

Marshal Tito was an unorthodox, tough ass-kicker. I hope our Tito will also be that.

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Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  tito mboweni  |  mini budget 2018

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