The man who would be Jonas

Sfiso Buthelezi
Sfiso Buthelezi

‘What angle are you taking, if I may ask?” enquired newly sworn-in ANC MP Sfiso Buthelezi during an interview, seemingly curious about speculation that he was set to become South Africa’s next deputy finance minister after he joined Parliament last Tuesday.

Although he dismissed as “rumours” claims that he would replace Mcebisi Jonas, who has become entangled in a web of accusations with President Jacob Zuma’s benefactors, the Guptas, Buthelezi said: “You cannot stop people from speculating because it comes with being in the public space.”

But he was shocked at being labelled a “novice”, considering that he joined the ANC at the age of 20 in 1981 and formed part of the Ingwavuma unit that was sent to experiment with setting up the first military bases for the ANC in the country. He was arrested and sent to Robben Island for eight years, until 1991.

Buthelezi was born in Mahlabathini in KwaZulu-Natal in 1961.

“Since I was 20, my life has been in the ANC one way or the other. I am 55 now. For 35 years I have been with the ANC, either in exile, in the bush, in jail, or working with politicians. I was just curious when I heard the word ‘novice’,” he said.

An economist by profession, Buthelezi was awarded his BCom degree while on Robben Island.

He obtained an honours degree at the University of Cape Town after his release, and later completed a master’s degree.

He recently resigned as the COO of the Makana Investment Corporation as a result of his new role in Parliament. The company is an investment vehicle for ex-political prisoners and their dependants.

“I am also the former Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of SA) chairman. I know you guys carried negative stories about Prasa, but you cannot leave that out. I was on the board for 10 years, starting as an ordinary director for four years, and then became chairman for six years,” said Buthelezi, whose term ended in 2014 when Popo Molefe took over.

The Public Protector is currently investigating allegations of maladministration and corruption reported by Molefe.

In 1999, then president Thabo Mbeki appointed him as the founding chairperson of the National Gambling Board, and he was tasked “to set up the regulatory environment in the whole of South Africa”.

Between 1994 and 1999, Buthelezi served as an adviser to Zuma when the latter was economic development MEC in KwaZulu-Natal. He was also an adviser to Mathews Phosa when the latter was the Mpumalanga premier.

Buthelezi declined to comment on the fact that he was not on the ANC’s election list for the 2014 general elections.

“The ANC should explain that. I get deployed and called, and I’ll respond.”

The SA Communist Party has alleged that a Cabinet reshuffle is planned that will see Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies axed. But presidency insiders have insisted that Davies is a hard-working minister and the president will not sacrifice him.

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