FIRST TAKE: Tito Mboweni a win for Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Rampahosa at Tuynhuis on Tuesday. Photo: Adrian de Kock
President Cyril Rampahosa at Tuynhuis on Tuesday. Photo: Adrian de Kock

1. President Cyril Ramaphosa wins the week

The president has been under the pump ever since Nhlanhla Nene spilled the beans on his relationship with the Guptas. He was castigated from all quarters for his failure to make a public statement and to act. But accepting Nene's resignation and replacing him with an old hand like Tito Mboweni is a masterstroke. It gives him the moral high ground (he referred to "good governance" at least five times during his remarks on Tuesday) and restores integrity to National Treasury.

2. National Treasury wins… sort of

On Tuesday evening South Africa will have its fifth minister of finance in the five years (Nene served twice) since 2014. Before that, the country had one finance minister in 13 years – Trevor Manuel. Political machinations since the ANC's dramatic national conference at Polokwane in 2007 has made Treasury and economic policy a battleground. And the folk that man the ramparts at the department's Church Square HQ want nothing more than stability.

The Nene debacle has had a demotivating effect on staff, but in Mboweni they get someone who is (a) politically senior and experienced, (b) a known and respected economist and technocrat and (c) knowledgeable about the arcane inner-workings of the finance ministry. And he will be able to deliver a credible mini-budget in two weeks' time.

3. Political dynamics

The EFF will claim the scalp of Nene after their blitzkrieg of a campaign from the last week or so. Ramaphosa will of course dismiss this and disregard the EFF's influence on the process. But there is no doubt that the red berets' pressure forced Nene's hand. They started querying his Gupta links and he was forced to admit them even before his testimony. The party will use this as a campaign tool to show voters they forced Ramaphosa to act. Their message will be that the ANC follows the EFF's lead, whether it's about land reform or good governance. 

4. The ANC, Cabinet and governance

The Nene resignation will also serve as a shot across the bow of a number of ministers and senior officials about wrongdoing or anything that could reinforce the perception of irregularities – and not necessarily in connection with the Guptas. If Ramaphosa would be willing to let Nene go, who is the custodian of fiscal policy, he surely won't think twice about dumping less than stellar performers like Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane or Malusi Gigaba. This might just whet Ramaphosa's appetite for further cuts to the national executive. And a minister resigning out of his own free will because of poor judgement? That's almost unheard of in these parts.

5 The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture

Will Nene's fall have a chilling effect on the commission? It might. But it also shows that there are very real repercussions to what happens at the commission. Nene's ministry is perhaps the most high-profile position besides the Presidency, and the need for proper governance, leadership and stability is well-documented. His testimony showed up that he lied to the media about his relationship, but there was no indication that he did anything illegal or that he advanced the interests of the Guptas. In fact, he was hailed as a hero for his resistance to the nuclear deal. But still he was forced to resign. It should give South Africans some confidence that the era of impunity might just be coming to an end.

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