How new Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Fundi Tshazibana found economics by chance

New Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Fundi Tshazibana, an accomplished economist, says at university she never thought she would find herself at the central bank, as she picked up economics as a "by the way" major.

Tshazibana was appointed to the position in July, together with Rashad Cassim, as part of three deputies to Governor Lesetja Kganyago. The 42-year-old is a trailblazer in the macroeconomic space, having served as deputy director-general in charge of the economic policy and forecasting division at National Treasury.

In an interview with Fin24, Tshazibana says economics was not her original focus at university. Her intention was to study law, as she thought lawyers had a decent life. But her interest soon veered towards a BCom Degree with a marketing major. It was only when she was informed that she needed to take up a second major as part of her degree that she "picked up economics as a by the way".

It's a chance that has paid off after she made a sharp career change from corporate sector marketing to the top echelons of public finance and policy.

"It is always amazing that I have landed up in a Reserve Bank," she says.

Not an outsider

"My first job in the public sector was with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, as a policy analyst," she said.

She started working at Nersa during the period when inflation targeting was introduced, which gave the Reserve Bank a mandate to maintain consumer price inflation at between 3% and 6 %.  As research she had to establish how the new policy would impact the regulator's electricity price adjustment, which marked her first interactions with institutions such as the Reserve Bank and National Treasury.

"Public policy is a big area to explore, you can give back to your country, develop yourself and have fun at the same time, it has been a very good learning environment," she said. 

It is a journey that seen her occupy a seat on the executive board of the International Monetary Fund as an alternate executive director.

A former advisor to Reserve Bank governors, Tshazibana was also a member of the bank's Monetary Policy Committee and its Fiduciary Committee, making her an insider in the institution whose independence and original mandate has come under threat from some politicians.

She says the debate around the bank often conflates the issues of its ownership and its mandate, in what often displays a lack of understand about the institution.

IMF succession

Asked about her choice for a person to replace the outgoing chief of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, Tshazibana said the finance minister would provide direction on SA's preferred candidate.

But she stresses that future head of the global lender should be alive to the dynamic economic challenges of the countries the institution mostly lend to which are developing economies.

"It is useful to get a candidate that understands the areas where the IMF is needed the most, that is something that we would take into account in our discussions."

The position of IMF managing director has always been held by a European national and no African has held the position yet. 

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