- President Cyril Ramaphosa was looking for a back-up option for finance minister in case Tito Mboweni resigned, but abandoned that search because he couldn’t find a suitable alternative
- The two most favored candidates were Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago and former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas
- Replacing Mboweni with an official less respected in capital markets would be a risk for Ramaphosa as the economy struggles to recover from what’s estimated to be its worst annual contraction in nine decades
President Cyril Ramaphosa sought to identify a backup option in case Finance Minister Tito Mboweni left his post, but abandoned the search because he couldn’t find a suitable alternative, according to four people familiar with the situation.
While some of the nation’s most prominent policymakers and business executives were informally canvassed as potential replacements over the past few months, the two most favored candidates - Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago and former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas - didn’t want the job. The people asked not to be identified because the process was private and senior ruling party members weren’t informed.
Ramaphosa’s first choice has always been to retain Mboweni, a 61-year-old former central bank governor, the people said. Still, the finance chief has frequently expressed reluctance to remain in the post for long both publicly and privately, citing the need for younger politicians to take over. He has also expressed his frustration with the job on Twitter, sparking concern that he was intent on resigning.
While lauded by investors for advocating the privatization or closing of failing state companies and austere policies, including a wage freeze for government workers, he’s clashed with Ramaphosa’s labour union allies and other ministers and senior ruling party politicians. His practice of frequently working from his home in Magoebaskloof, 277 km north of the seat of government in Pretoria, has been taken by some commentators as evidence of his dissatisfaction with the job.
Ramaphosa last week denied speculation that Mboweni might depart and coverage of his comments was retweeted by Mboweni. While the Financial Mail magazine, last week cited unidentified people as saying that Kganyago had been approached about the job, Ramaphosa said his discussions with the governor had been confined to monetary policy.
"I know nothing about a replacement of the minister of finance," Ramaphosa said on an online briefing on Friday. "This is news to me. There is no such plan, there is no such intention and there has been no such discussion."
Ramaphosa reappointed Kganyago to his post in 2019, and he intends serving out his second five-year term, the central bank said in an e-mailed response to questions. Jonas didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Treasury declined to comment and referred Bloomberg to Ramaphosa’s remarks. The presidency declined to comment further.
Replacing Mboweni with an official less respected in capital markets would be a risk for Ramaphosa as the economy struggles to recover from what’s estimated to be its worst annual contraction in nine decades and the government’s debt burden surges. In addition to serving as the country’s central bank governor for a decade, Mboweni has been chairman of AngloGold Ashanti and acted as an adviser to Goldman Sachs.
Other potential replacements that have been considered by people close to Ramaphosa include Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, and Renosi Mokate, a former deputy central bank governor and current chairwoman of the Government Employees Pension Fund, according to the people. It was unclear if they’d been approached and neither of their offices responded to requests for comment.
Suitable candidates may be deterred by the relatively low compensation paid to government ministers. Both Kganyago and Jonas, who is chairman of the MTN Group, Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company by subscribers, would take a pay cut if they took up the post.
Replacing Mboweni could also lead to fresh ructions within the ruling ANC, which remains divided between pro- and anti-Ramaphosa factions, with any new appointment to the crucial position likely to be hotly contested.
Mboweni retains the full support of the ANC’s top leadership, according to Paul Mashatile, the party’s treasurer general.
"He has not indicated that he no longer wants to be the minister of finance and no one has tried to have him removed from that position," Mashatile said in an interview.
-With assistance from S'thembile Cele, Paul Vecchiatto and Prinesha Naidoo.