Ramaphosa offsets EFF political victory with Mboweni appointment

EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: AFP)
EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: AFP)

From having to make the tough decision to let go of an ally and key advisor in his Cabinet, to securing a political victory by appointing a widely respected replacement, it's no wonder President Cyril Ramaphosa was in a jovial mood after his announcement on Tuesday that Nhlanhla Nene had indeed, resigned as Minister of Finance.

Replacing Nene, after days of speculation about whether Ramaphosa would remove him from his position, is Tito Mboweni - a former governor of the Reserve Bank and Cabinet minister.

"Mboweni's appointment represents continuity for the Ramaphosa faction within the ANC and adds a certain gravitas to the economic cluster within the Cabinet," says political analyst Daniel Silke. "Ramaphosa has rescued the Nene debacle with a highly credible appointment, who is respected among both domestic and international business leaders given his previous position at the Reserve Bank and the broader private sector in directorships that he currently holds.

"The faction has held firm and that will provide some relief to the investor community and ahead of the medium-term budget statement."

Others agree.

"I don't think the anti-Ramaphosa faction, if they had been driving a campaign for Nene to be removed, would see this as a victory," said political analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela. "Mboweni's appointment is a blow for them. He comes from the old Thabo Mbeki faction and they were the arch nemeses of Jacob Zuma. If they meant to unsettle Ramaphosa by threatening Nene, this replacement would be devastating to them."

The EFF will likely claim Nene's removal and the exposure of one of Ramaphosa's confidants as a victory for them, after they threatened to reveal "dark secrets" about him and lay charges of perjury against him if they found him to have lied in his testimony to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

"The strength of Mboweni's appointment is likely to offset any kind of victory that the EFF could claim. In fact, this will provide Ramaphosa with additional ammunition within Cabinet to push through further economic reforms," Silke said.

Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that he decided to accept Nene's resignation after Nene himself pointed out the risk that the developments around his testimony would detract from the important task of re-establishing the public trust in government.

This, in effect, throws down a moral challenge to everyone else in Cabinet who has been accused of corruption.

"As things stand now, we have no evidence that Nene misappropriated state money. The only thing we know is that he did something that called his integrity into question by not telling us about his meetings with the Guptas," Mkhabela said. "This is as opposed to other people in Cabinet, who we already know to be corrupt and who are hanging in there. By making the moral threshold for resignation very low, Nene has thrown down a big moral challenge to those people, as it becomes untenable for them to remain in Cabinet."

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