President Cyril Ramaphosa plans to make an announcement soon on the future of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene after his admission to an anti-graft inquiry that he met members of the Gupta family at their home six times, contradicting previous denials.
"It’s a very big a cause of concern for the president," Khusela Diko, a spokeswoman for the president, told reporters on Tuesday in response to a question about Nene "lying" about the meetings. "That decision on Nene is imminent. In fact, we are just waiting direction from the president as to when exactly it will be."
Her comments come amid increasing speculation that Ramaphosa may dismiss Nene, whom he appointed in February after taking over from President Jacob Zuma. The Guptas, who were friends of Zuma and in business with his son, were implicated by the nation’s anti-graft ombudsman in influencing government appointments and the award of state contracts - allegations they and Zuma deny.
Nene’s departure would deprive Ramaphosa of a close political ally, and a new finance minister - the nation’s fifth in less than three years - would have just weeks to deliver a mid-term budget that reassures investors and ratings companies. While a shakeup risks further eroding confidence, failure by Ramaphosa to act decisively may undermine his fight to end the graft and mismanagement that marred Zuma’s rule.
"If Ramaphosa wants to retain credibility in terms of his ‘anti corruption’ drive, he has got no option but to let Nene go," said Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance.
Ramaphosa and Nene discussed his statement last week to the anti-corruption commission headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Diko said earlier by phone. In the testimony, Nene contradicted earlier comments in a television interview in 2016 that he’d encountered the Guptas only at public gatherings.
Ramaphosa "is concerned about uncertainty that this has created in the markets," Diko said. "He is applying his mind to the discussions he has had with Minister Nene and the representations made by him."
Uncertainty over Nene’s future has weighed on the rand. The currency weakened 1.1% against the dollar to 15.0118 by 14:00 on Tuesday in Johannesburg.
Former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas declined an offer by Ramaphosa on Monday to take over as finance minister, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorised to comment. The president is now considering central bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago and one of his predecessors, Tito Mboweni, for the post, the people said. Jonas, Mboweni and Kganyago didn’t answer calls to their mobile phones.
Nene asked Ramaphosa to relieve him of his duties, the Johannesburg-based Business Day newspaper reported Monday, without saying how it got the information. Nene has apologised for his conduct and he denies having granted anyone preferential treatment or favors.
Jonas told the commission last month that Ajay Gupta offered him the post of finance minister and a R600m ($40.3m) bribe in exchange for business concessions. Jonas said he had refused, and was warned he would be killed if he spoke of the proposal. Ajay Gupta said in an affidavit that he’d never met with Jonas and the accusation was an “intentional fabrication.”
"If Ramaphosa is prepared to act on Nene, who is in his own camp, then there is a serious signal to the tainted Zuma-supporters, who are vaguely supporting Ramaphosa at this point, that there is no place to hide," Booysen said. "Ramaphosa will do damage to his attempt to create this new ANC if he does not act and act definitively."
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