Meet Gill Marcus

2009-07-20 13:38

Cape Town – Feminine softness or charm, glamour or fashion icon are not attributes readily associated with Gill Marcus, the newly designated Governor of the Reserve Bank. On the other hand, efficiency, political savvy and influence, a willingness to work hard and a dedication to the African National Congress, undoubtedly are her leading characteristics.

She was famously quoted by the Financial Mail as saying that she doesn't flirt. "I wouldn't know how to flirt," she said. "It's what people expect from a woman and that's to be pleasing and accommodating. I'm not that at all, but I don't think I am difficult to work with. I'm direct and I strive to get the job done."

Although it is difficult to descry her political stance right now, she has historically been associated with the left of the party – her parents having gone into exile as Communists.

She spent her time in exile in the Department of Information and Publicity (DIP) in London, taking cuttings from South African papers for the ANC and six years later graduating to produce a weekly bulletin of SA news for the movement. In between shifts she worked for her parents in an up-market sandwich bar they opened in Knightsbridge. A few years later saw her becoming the DIP's deputy secretary.

As deputy secretary she was summoned back to Johannesburg by the movement to establish the DIP there, and effectively became the party spokesperson, despite the return of exile heavyweights like Pallo Jordan and Saki Macozoma.

She was, when I arrived as a foreign correspondent in South Africa in 1992, the leading media interface with the ANC, and a slightly alarming figure she was with her towering height, her square jaw and substantial person and the flowing kaftans she habitually wore, and wears even now.

During the 1994 election campaign she travelled with Nelson Mandela to almost every corner of the country and was elected to Parliament herself. Having also gained a BCom degree from Unisa while in exile she promptly embarked on her career of hoovering up as much knowledge of the financial, budgetary, economic and commercial systems of the country as was possible.

She was given the task of chairing Parliament's joint finance committee charged with oversight of the budgets of the first finance ministers of the new South Africa – Derek Keys and then Chris Liebenberg. And she made it her business to turn the rather ramshackle committee apparatus with its 55 members into an effective oversight tool. She set up working groups to deal with taxation and macroeconomic policy, relations with the provinces and with the budgetary function itself. In case she was not already busy enough she sat on the public accounts committee, and became deputy chair of the audit commission.

Her diligence was further rewarded when she was appointed deputy finance minister in the national unity government.

Three years later she was put into the Reserve Bank as deputy to the newly appointed governor Tito Mboweni. They did not get on, and five years later parted company. Marcus went on to less high profile, but nonetheless valuable jobs in terms of building her career as Professor of Leadership and Gender Studies at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and then went into business as chairman of Western Areas mining company.

Then in 2007 Professor Marcus was picked by the Absa board to succeed Danie Cronjé as chair of Absa Group and Absa Bank.