Mail & Guardian

Keys No Fire Behind The Smoke

08 Jul 1994 00:00 | Staff Reporter

There is no sign that Derek Keys was anything but genuine in his reasons for resigning. Chris Louw, Anton Harber and Jacques Magliolo report

CABINET sources confirm that Finance Minister Derek Keys' sudden resignation is genuinely for "personal reasons".

Keys had won the respect of the most left-wing of his cabinet critics and there was no sign of tension between him and his colleagues, cabinet insiders said. "His cabinet contribution was excellent and admired. He never spoke for more than a few minutes and then it was always a valuable intervention," another minister said.

Trade and Industry Minister Trevor Manuel's spokesman, Charl Nel, said there were no conflicts of policy. "Mr Manuel and Mr Keys had a very good personal and working relationship ... Mr Manuel respects and admires Mr Keys' expertise."

Other ministers, who spoke to the Weekly Mail & Guardian off the record, including some at ideological poles to Keys, expressed regret that he was leaving so early in the life of the new government.

Keys told President Nelson Mandela last Thursday that he wished to announce his plan to retire in October on Thursday this week. He wanted his successor to be named simultaneously and was waiting for Liebenberg to decide whether to accept.

But rumours started doing the rounds very quickly after his discussion with the president. A Reuters report on Tuesday started the phones ringing, forcing a premature, ill-planned announcement.

It appears that Keys agreed to see the new government through its first Budget and would leave once the government's credibility was secure.

There are indications that he has resigned the finance portfolio to return to the private sector.

The latest market speculation is that Keys is about to join Anglo American to spearhead the group's overseas operations. But this was strongly denied yesterday by Anglo spokesman Michael Spicer. "There is absolutely no truth in it," he said.

SIMON SEGAL reports that Keys has played no small part in the smooth start of the new government of national unity's fiscal and monetary management team which has quickly won international credibility.

The market's reaction to his resignation this week bears testimony to this. The question this raises is whether Mandela was wise to retain him in the new cabinet, and whether Liebenberg should not have been appointed from the outset.

Keys added stability, experience and continuity in a very sensitive period. The uncertainty now, despite the speculation around his motives for leaving, is probably less intense than it would have been in May when the cabinet was appointed.

From October life goes on without Keys _ and the economy will survive. Keys would be the first to note that South Africa's successful fiscal and economic management is a team effort and not the work of any individual. Mandela has gone out of his way to demonstrate his sensitivity to the government's economic credibility in the eyes of local and international investors and development agencies.

His team managing the country's fiscal and monetary policies, if not its broader economic policies, is virtually unchanged. Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals has been reappointed for a five-year term from August. The heads of both the department of Finance Estian Calitz and State Expenditure Hannes Smit have been retained. Keys' influential adviser Japie Jacobs stays on.

The only new appointment to this senior team is deputy Finance Minister Alec Erwin, former education officer in Cosatu's metalworkers' affiliate Numsa and highly influential in Cosatu's formation in the mid-Eighties.

The relationship between Erwin, once considered a hardliner, and Keys has been cordial.

Liebenberg's appointment is in the same spirit, and is possibly more encouraging in that Mandela could have opted to bring in a minister closer to the ANC.

The authority of Liebenberg, with no party or political base, could be a problem. Much depends on his relationship with Mandela and other ministers such as Jay Naidoo, responsible for co-ordinating reconstruction and development, Trade and Industry Minister Trevor Manuel and Erwin. Like Keys, Liebenberg's greatest strength is that he has no political ambition _ he has many options following a successful business career_ but a banker's reputation to maintain.

Liebenberg's power and influence in cabinet will probably not match those of Keys, but will be sufficient for him to play the role of all finance ministers the world over _ restraining their colleagues from spending their way to short-term political favour.

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