Cape Town – With Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa set to become SA’s 5th president of the democratic era, he will be in a position to appoint the first Cabinet not overseen by Jacob Zuma in almost a decade.
This means that Ramaphosa will be able to chose the first finance minister not appointed under Zuma's watch since 2009. Malusi Gigaba, the current minister, was brought in after Pravin Gordhan was axed in a midnight Cabinet reshuffle on March 31 2017.
But if he were to be reshuffled himself, or moved laterally to another Cabinet position, who would replace him?
Some of the candidates said to have a chance of securing the top finance job if Gigaba steps down or is removed are former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, ex-Treasury director general and current Standard Bank CEO Lungisa Fuzile, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, and former ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize.
ANC secretary general Ace Magashule on Tuesday afternoon confirmed the party had decided to recall Zuma, and that Ramaphosa would deliver the State of the Nation Address, if it does take place.
But while Ramaphosa has been anointed the country's next president by the ANC, it is still not clear when he will take over from Zuma.
Zuma had on Tuesday afternoon not yet responded to say when, or whether, he would heed the call to step down.
Lumkile Mondi, an economics lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, said it would be a mistake to retain Gigaba in his position under a Ramaphosa presidency.
Mondi said Gigaba is seen to be close to the controversial Gupta family, and appointed several of their allies to key positions in state-owned companies while he was minister of public enterprises between 2010 and 2014.
“Stability can only be shown if the minister of finance isn’t chequered… it would be naïve to believe he’s a chameleon and can change his colours," he commented to Fin24 via phone on Tuesday.
Mondi added that Ramaphosa is spoilt for choice if he’s looking for a new finance minister. He may look to former SA Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni, or former chairperson of the ANC’s economic transformation sub-committee Enoch Godongwana as possible replacements for Gigaba.
Elize Kruger, a senior economist at NKC African Economics, said Gigaba is seen to lack credibility. She said possible candidates who could take over the top finance job include Mkhize, Gordhan or Jonas.
She added that while the rand may strengthen on the appointment of a new face in the finance minister's office, "the reality of a difficult fiscal scenario would not go away irrespective of the individual in the position".
Gigaba safe for now, argues Silke
While Kruger and Mondi argued that Gigaba has lost credibility, political economist Daniel Silke said the current finance minister is likely safe, at least in the short term.
“We are far too close to the actual budget for a change in [finance] minister to be enacted," he told Fin24.
Silke added that the Budget Speech, scheduled for February 21, is particularly sensitive, given the broad tax hikes expected to be announced due to a widening budget deficit.
“Finding a cohesive message to send is more important than (that) he delivers the budget,” he said. “Gigaba has played his cards quite carefully in the last few months… he could send a satisfactory message in the short term."
Gigaba, meanwhile, in a CNN interview on Tuesday evening said he supports Zuma's exit, and that Parliament would vote him out should he refuse to resign.
"We are all of the view that the president of the country should resign, and we certainly expect him to do the right thing," he said.
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