‘It’s going to look like Tito was fired’

President Jacob Zuma will not appoint Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni for another five-year term and will replace him with Gill Marcus, the Mail & Guardian learned on Saturday.

Zuma announced his decision at a press conference at the Union Buildings in Pretoria at noon on Sunday.

“I have reappointed Mboweni. However he has indicated he wishes to leave in November to pursue other interests,” Mboweni was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association.

Zuma said Marcus had “qualities of proven leadership, sound judgement and integrity … She will prove a worthy successor to Mr Mboweni”.

With just three weeks until the end of Mboweni’s five-year contract there appears to be confusion in the presidency, over how to handle the succession, and to deal with potential market fall-out from a hasty announcement.

Most economists had speculated that he would keep the job, and as recently as Thursday a senior Luthuli House official close to Zuma told the M&G that Mboweni would stay on despite pressure for Zuma’s leftist allies for his ouster.

Mboweni himself on Saturday effectively confirmed that he will be departing.

Asked about the prediction in Friday’s edition of the M&G that he was “set to stay”, Mboweni said simply: “you got it dead wrong”.

Mboweni was told just last Saturday that he would not keep his job, a senior state official familiar with discussion told the M&G.

“The trouble”, this person said “is that now it is going to look like Tito was fired”.

Marcus is well regarded by investors, having spent several years chairing the board of banking giant Absa, and it is not her selection, so much as the apparent mismanagement and unpredictability of the process that is likely to rattle markets.

One plan under discussion in the presidency is to limit the damage by reappointing Mboweni on the understanding that he will step down after six months.

That would allow for time to prepare the ground, officials hope, but it does leave open the possibility, however slender, that when the time came he would decline to quit, leaving Zuma with an enormous political and economic headache.

“Absa is not in a position to comment,” Happy Ntshingila, executive director for group marketing and corporate affairs, told the M&G on Sunday morning.

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