Did Ramaphosa play Russian roulette offering Treasury to Jonas, others and finally Mboweni


Clyde Ramalaine

South Africa has a new Finance Minister, no it is not Barbara Creecy, Paul Mashatile or Mcebisi Jonas. It is none other than the old hand Tito Titus Mboweni, democracy’s first Labour Minister, later the first black Governor of the Reserve Bank. Mboweni told the media that he only received the call from SA caretaker president, Ramaphosa at around 9 pm on Monday night October 8. “In the wake of Mr Nene’s resignation, I have decided to appoint Mr Tito Mboweni as the Minister of Finance with immediate effect. As the former governor of the South African Reserve Bank and, before that, Minister of Labour, Mr Mboweni brings to this position vast experience in the areas of finance, economic policy and governance” [sic]. These are the exact words Ramaphosa used in making his announcement of the next finance minister.

It must then mean that the President by finally calling on Mboweni and getting a yes, ended his Russian roulette expedition. We learn from the SACP and COSATU, that they were consulted in the choices of the President to arrive at the final choice for a Mboweni. We must, therefore, surmise that the names bandied around were also consulted by the Tripartite Alliance. What does that mean, did the SACP and Cosatu disapprove of the touted Creecy, and the Mashatile bandied names?

It did not take long after Nene appeared before the State of Capture Commission, for the media, opposition parties and a section in the ANC to bid for his head. The dust did not settle on his confessions when names were bandied around. Leading the preferred nominations were Gauteng ANC MEC of Finance, Barbara Creecy who was touted as the next minister.

While we may not know who exactly introduced her as a candidate it caught on quickly and by the time the weekend papers hit the shelves, Creecy looked a concluded choice. The possibilities for her candidacy may have been the work of strong campaigners that define the economic interest with white as the dominant theme. It may also have come about from the presidency’s very active public relations as a means to test the public on a possible woman and white future finance minister. We also learnt about the veiled candidacy of ANC Treasurer General Paul Mashatile where the apparent rationale led that other liberation struggle movements fused their treasury general positions with that of their country finance ministers.

We know that Ramaphosa did not have Mboweni as his first choice he apparently offered the same post to the controversial former deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas. Jonas by his own admission claims to have declined the offer. Jonas with this decline must have made history, not only was he as he questionably claimed offered this position firstly by a Gupta brother whom he is not sure, the same who threatened him with murder. The second time in this season by a caretaker president Ramaphosa. This coveted job, Jonas declined now twice.

What then does it mean, or how then can we interpret the President’s finance ministry offer to Jonas? Does it mean the post of finance minister, became a trading mechanism where several people may have been approached as offered to a number of people among others Jonas and on Monday night to Mboweni who accepted the offer? While we not privy to how the actual secret meetings for choices of this nature are arrived at, one may deduce that the president applies his mind, as advised by those whom he trusts most. Ultimately the president takes a decision to approach candidates who have the option to either accept or decline.

What we can accept is that since Nene’s confessions and awaiting his offer to resign, Ramaphosa compelled by his constituency base was looking at individuals that may fill this post. We also know Ramaphosa stands accused of not having done any due diligence on Nhlanhla Nene, the appointment of the latter to Ramaphosa’s maiden cabinet confirms the intention was to restore SA’s economy to the first Nene Moment of November 2015 less driven by sensitivity or the abundance of caution to be endorsing Gupta corruption. Had Ramaphosa done his due diligence on Nene he may not have arrived at his first finance minister decision.

Ramaphosa either was misled or made a conscious popular choice that would define him as the opposite of his predecessor thus fixing the November 2015 Nene Moment. It may have been a purely political choice definitely not with state capture as a focus to be dealt with. Therefore, when Ramaphosa tells us today his choice to accept Nene’s resignation is in the interest of clean governance we know we must take that with a teaspoon of salt. SA’s caretaker president must tell us where his moral conscience on the specific Gupta corruption was back in February when he made his maiden cabinet choice for a Finance Minister in Nhanhla Nene.

What do we make of his Ramaphosa’s consideration of Mcebisi Jonas? Why then would Ramaphosa have offered this post to the controversial Jonas? His decision to make the offer to Mcebisi Jonas may have been fuelled by the very same group that makes up a very significant Pravin Gordhan and other others who are connected to the hip to the former deputy minister, Jonas. What form of diligence did the President consider in his choice to make this offer? Why would the president against publicly known information, the tagging of alleged ECDC corruption, and later the Mandela Funeral scandal on Jonas still be that obnoxious to offer him the control of the South African purse? Maybe the fact that Jonas is a member of the SACP, the former worker’s vanguard, but increasingly a cabinet guard of democratic ANC led presidencies.

What then do we make of Mboweni’s acceptance of the offer? Is the choice for him an authentic Ramaphosa choice? We know the president must own his decisions but we have seen how a starchy, strained and unhappy Ramaphosa in February announced a cabinet that appeared not his. Looking at all the candidates we must ask were any of these be it Creecy, Mashatile, Jonas and finally Mboweni authentic Ramaphosa choices? Those who claim to know argues Ramaphosa does not make the decision of his own he goes with the dominant advise or lobbying group.

Tito Mboweni is a very active member of the social media fraternity and has over time made many social comments, as is his right, that may posit him more controversial than what meets the eye. Mboweni is considered by some an affable character, yet others consider him somewhat attention seeking, one not shy to tell you where he is hanging out and one that does not shy away from advancing his views often in a claim of seniority with claimed ‘professorial’ attire.

We remember how he came to defend the SARB in its current status and how he vociferously defended the present ownership of the SARB. Often these spirited defences come meshed in a conflation of institutional and personal legacy threat. Mboweni also dared his public views on the ANC presidential contests between Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Zuma. For the record, Mboweni was more in support of having Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma for the position. Mboweni in February made it categorically clear that he was not available for the post of Finance Minister with the following posting, “Against the wisdom of my Team, please don’t tell them this. It’s between us, I am not available for Minister of Finance. You cannot recycle the same people all over again. It is time for young people. We are available for advisory roles. Not cabinet. We have done that”

When he is today announced as SA next finance minister, it may speak of a sense of pragmatism on the part of the SA caretaker president, for appointing someone who did not support his candidacy.

We know he is considered a market-friendly appointment. In a space where this latter part of the fifth administration as led by Ramaphosa is obsessed with foreign investment drives, it becomes imperative to inspire confidence for the rest of the world that South Africa a stable investment destination. Mboweni becomes that neutralising figure to assist global investment communities that SA is a safe destination. The announcement of his appointment saw the highly sensitive SA currency somewhat stabilising, meaning the markets were not too shaken by this appointment, neither were they extending and overall confidence.

His past experiences in particular as South Africa Reserve Bank Governor for the period since 1999 to 2009, coupled with his private sector identity as one who is chairing several boards among other Nampak, He serves as a non-executive director for South Africa at the New Development Bank (BRICS Development Bank. Mboweni’s also serves as international advisor of  Goldman Sachs International.

Mboweni naturally is a safe choice for those who prognosticate the doctrine of an SA that must submit to a globe where it needs to toe the line if it desires foreign investment to be made. This means he is not any threat to the prevailing status quo of a known racialised economic disparity that 25 years in democracy continues to militate liberation and true emancipation of the black masses. Mboweni will, therefore, do little to change the status quo.

On the 28th of April Mboweni shared with the social media world his analysis of what he termed three urgent tasks for the National Democratic Revolution in South Africa. His views as captured, “1. The State must own 40% of all mining companies. This is easy to do. 2. The State Must create a Sovereign Wealth Fund for future generations from mining dividends. 3 A State Bank must be created URGENTLY” [sic]. Since his views as uttered here are not yet publicly altered since it first appeared, the questions South Africans want to know is, how will he actualise the above, or was its mere political banter?  Will he also betray the poor who share these sentiments?

On another score, in a season where Nene was pressurised to resign, ostensibly not for any wrongdoing in either of his two stints but for admitting to meetings with the Guptas, can we accept that Mboweni never met the Guptas or anyone in capital active in state capture on both sides of the racial economic divide? Are we to surmise that he visited no secret bosberaad, no golf weekend or a cruise ship or some powerful economic persona’s house? He also may not have, in the words of Minister in the Office of the SA president Bathabile Dlamini, any ‘smallanyanskeletons’ in his closet as to whom he met.

Don’t forget Ramaphosa was at pains to tell SA that Nene did nothing wrong, this begs the question so why he was then offloaded by the one who told us he did nothing wrong?? Yet you hear Ramaphosa say he made this Mboweni appointment, “in the interest of good governance…” Shall we allow Ramaphosa to get away with his usual doublespeak? I am no Nene fan since his dealings at the PIC and that of his son’s role in a Mozambican questionable oil refinery transaction, whom Weekly Xpose in May 2017 was the first to raise when the entire mainstream media had no interest in leaves much to be desired. However, we are told by Ramaphosa he has done nothing wrong at treasury according to the SA caretaker President but is offloaded for having had meetings with SA’s at the now leprous colony of the Gupta family hence treasury must be quarantined and Nene is leprous now.

In this regard we must say congratulations to the new SA finance minister, Tito Mboweni, he is finally in the post he in another season felt aggrieved and hard done by when he was overlooked by Mandela who opted for Trevor Manuel who was considered less educated for the job. At the time he was reduced to a Labour Minister position. Let us hope his radical social media posts on a need for nationalisation, an EFF – initiated fund, the establishment of a state bank will not also make him a weekend minister in this post when the media turns against him. We will now see if you were merely showboating with your running commentary when capital long ago declared that controversial and pure populist rhetoric. Will you now toe the line? Or will you dare to use treasury for the toolbox it can be to assist if not lead in transforming the economy from its racialised reality that depicts the binaries of white wealth and black poverty?

On a personal note, Tito, remember your boss makes decisions heavily influenced by public relations. He saw the touted Creecy and more veiled Mashatile options and was fortunate to have Mcebisi Jonas decline because he was convinced neither of these would have worked. You also know you were not his first choice for the post, he approached others who declined it, he reconsidered others and became swayed they were not good choices based on unsolicited and solicited advice he received.

Did Ramaphosa with his many offerings to others before Mboweni play Russian roulette with the post of Finance Minister? Your guess is as good as mine. Wishing you all the best but we will keep your feet to the fire

In closing what has become of this position, that many do not want it? What has happened in the political and economic environments of a South Africa that this highly coveted job of Minister of Finance appears not wanted by many in this season? Since even the one that finally accepted it made public his views that he was not available for the position. When did this position become such a poisoned chalice? It appears no one really wanted the job. Is it fair to conclude that Mboweni became the last choice of desperation? Mboweni therefore in the tradition of the octogenarian Job Mokgoro‘s appointment to the office of the premier. Mboweni becomes the retired player, one who declared himself not young and if appointed a definitive recycled one, who in the twilight of his career is brought to fulfil a reserve player role. What is clear if nothing defined Mboweni’s true legacy this chalice he accepted will do so.

What did Ramaphosa have to offer Mboweni whom we all know was a reluctant one for the job?

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation