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Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene (Gallo Images/Deon Raath)
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Cyril Ramaphosa has a difficult decision to make: should he ask for the
resignation of his finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene?
admitted to meeting the Guptas at their home on at least six occasions between
2009 and 2014, when he was both deputy minister and minister of finance. He
owned up to ten contact meetings with the Guptas, including visits to the head
office of Sahara Computers in Midrand and at government events.
there seems to be evidence that his son, Siyabonga, could have benefitted
financially from a business deal financed by the Public Investment Corporation
(PIC) in 2014, when he was at the end of his term as deputy minister and
chairperson of the PIC board. Although Nene Jr was not included in the deal
financed by the PIC, his partner received a hefty finder's fees and a generous
exit package from the deal.
evidence before the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture Nene
denied both that he assisted the Guptas or that he is aware of any impropriety in
regard to the PIC transaction. And on Friday he apologised for not coming clean
earlier about the Guptas, begging for forgiveness, and added that he will
cooperate with any investigation into his son's dealings with the PIC.
not have come at a worse time for Ramaphosa, who is attempting to coax the
economy out of its slump, reset the state and manage a fractious ANC, while
simultaneously trying to put daylight between him and the corruption of the
difficult to do all of that when one of your most senior and important
ministers comes out admitting that he lied about the nature of his relationship
with the country's most reviled family. And to add insult to injury, his son's
PIC involvement has opened him up to attacks from the EFF, questioning his
integrity and demanding his resignation. The DA has also asked the public
protector to investigate.
will have to decide how egregious the Nene transgression was and whether it
warrants a dismissal. Nene told eNCA in 2016 that he never had any "engagements"
with the Guptas and that he only "bumped" into them at official
functions. Did he tell Ramaphosa the same? Because four meetings at Saxonwold
while deputy minister and two after he became a minister certainly are
fully-fledged engagements, and, given what we know about how the Guptas
operate, the discussions were bound to revolve around what they want and need.
still too many unanswered questions about these meetings: how long did they
last? What exactly was discussed? What demands were made? How were they
Guptas allegedly approached Nene's deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, in October 2015, he
immediately shared details of the event with both Nene and Pravin Gordhan. In
fact, Jonas and Nene spoke about the issue on the balcony of Jonas' office on
Church Square for fear of being secretly recorded. Surely that was a moment
where Nene could have shared his own experience with Jonas?
Surely, given the
prevailing political climate and the series of revelations surrounding the
Guptas, Nene could have confided in a colleague like Gordhan? Some at Treasury
expressed their surprise when Nene revealed his links with the Guptas. It seems
he never told them, either.
argument is being made that in his first term, between 2009 and 2014, it was
difficult to rebuff the president when he introduced the Guptas to all and
sundry. At the time the Guptas weren't considered as toxic and reputational
risk was still believed to be within bounds. "What must you do if the
president wants you to meet someone?" is the refrain.
that changed after 2013, when the family abused their connection to the
president to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base and after the details about
Imperial Crown Trading came to light?
them twice at their Saxonwold home in 2014 after he became minister to discuss
the deal between the PIC and Iqbal Survé. "There was no harm in honouring
their invitation," he told the capture commission on Wednesday. Even
allowing for the role of the finance minister to engage with major stakeholders
in the economy as well as to keep relationships with high net-worth individuals
on track, these meetings seem highly irregular. And we need to know exactly
what was discussed.
certainly is a sense of unease about the Gupta-PIC revelations in high party
and government circles. Nene is not believed to be corrupt and his role in
blocking the Russian nuclear deal is spoken of in glowing terms. There is
agreement that Nene showed poor judgement but uncertainty about whether he
should resign, with the added complication that the medium term budget policy
statement is set to be delivered on October 24. Treasury can hardly afford more
instability and another new minister.
Ramaphosa decides, he will have to do so publicly. If Nene stays, he needs the
president's support. If he goes, Ramaphosa will have to explain that, too.
- Pieter du Toit is News24's assistant editor for in-depth news.
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