President Jacob Zuma’s supporters are lobbying for former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to replace Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.
ANC insiders this week told the Mail & Guardian Zuma has already briefed some senior ANC leaders about his intention to replace Gordhan with her.
“I know senior leaders were summoned [by Zuma] to Mahlamba-Ndlopfu to be briefed about the developments. The decision
was that, after the treasury budget vote, she will take over as finance minister. She will be deputised by Sfiso Buthelezi,” said the ANC insider, who is aligned to the Zuma faction.
Buthelezi, who served as Zuma’s economic adviser when he was MEC for economic development in KwaZulu-Natal between 1994 and 1999, is a member of the finance portfolio committee in Parliament.
Dlamini-Zuma was expected to touch down in Johannesburg on Thursday from the AU summit in Addis Ababa, where her successor, Moussa Faki Mahamat, from Chad, was elected as the new chairperson.
She is expected to hit the ground running in her campaign to succeed her former husband as the next ANC leader in December and that of the country in 2019.
She is expected to attend a church service in Carletonville on Sunday and is likely to be accompanied by the women’s league’s top officials. The league was the first ANC structure to endorse Dlamini-Zuma publicly as the next ANC president. She also enjoys widespread support in the Free State, North West, Mpumalanga and her home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma’s supporters believe her appointment as finance minister would be a necessary step for her in preparation to take over as the country’s number one.
“The best position for her before she becomes president would be the one of finance to alleviate the fears of an investor,” said one of Dlamini-Zuma’s lobbyists.
He dismissed concerns about her lack of financial experience. “If Pravin is a pharmacist, what will stop her [Dlamini-Zuma] as doctor to take the position [of finance minister]? Why would people complain?” the lobbyist asked.
An ANC national executive committee member, who is in the anti-Zuma faction, said there was nothing stopping Dlamini-Zuma from being appointed finance minister. “What I know is that Nkosazana is on the national list [of ANC public representatives]. Because she was not around, she asked to be pushed downward [on the list].
“She has every right now to say, if there is a space, I must be first in line. I would imagine, if she wants to be president down the line, she would want to prove herself better on the finance side,” he said. “If I were placed in that position and I have different ambitions, I would perform in such a manner that I prove myself.”
He added it was difficult to predict how the markets would react to news of Dlamini-Zuma’s appointment.
“The market[s] don’t care who the hell you put in, as long as there’s a perception that there will be sound financial management. Even if you put [in] a good person, if the perception is such that you are removing Pravin because he is fighting the Guptas, it will also taint the good candidate. It’s difficult to read,” he said.
There has been growing tension between Zuma and Gordhan in the past months. Business Day reported on Thursday that Zuma hit out at the treasury during the ANC lekgotla last week for frustrating the party’s economic transformation agenda.
Gordhan has been embroiled in a court battle with Oakbay Investments, a company owned by Zuma’s family friends, the Guptas.
The presidency and the ANC did not respond to requests for comment.
‘It’ll look like another Zuma state capture bid’
Political analysts this week said the appointment Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as finance minister would be unfortunate.
The University of Pretoria’s Sithembile Mbete said, although it made sense for Dlamini-Zuma to take a ministerial position before the ANC conference, it would not be wise to make her the finance minister.
“If I [were to] put Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in any position, it would be minister in the presidency. It places her in the UN [United Nations] office, in the president’s office and provides her with an international profile to become a successor to Zuma.
“If she can push in a few quick wins in the next year or two in the name of the NDP [national development plan], then she looks more presidential,” Mbete said.
Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand said, if Dlamini-Zuma was appointed finance minister, it would almost be like a Zuma coup.
“It would confirm all of our worst suspicions of Zuma facilitating a smooth transition and that would actually show the power of the markets. If Zuma has been complaining about the power of the markets and international finance so far, he ain’t seen nothing yet if he makes that move.
“It’s not about Zuma appointing a Zuma, it’s about capture and not safeguarding public resources. And that is the message that her appointment would transmit.
“It would be a very dark day in South African politics and especially the economy if he showed that kind of disregard for the international system and the capitalist system he has endorsed and created here in South Africa. It would create suspicion about the future of the country’s economy,” Booysen said.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said he did not believe Dlamini-Zuma would make a good finance minister. “I wouldn’t be so sure [about her appointment], given the fact that she’s not from that space as much as she has the gravitas and is high profile. Indeed, she moved from the medical field to foreign affairs effortlessly and made a mark there. But I’m not so sure that finance, which is a specialised area, may necessarily be an easy fit for her.
“She is coming at a time of great financial difficulty and at a time of financial strain, where you have to cut here and there, and you have to listen to rating agencies and the business sector, the very issue which may complicate a candidate who is supposed to drive radical transformation.”
Fikeni said a finance minister had to be “pragmatic and moderate your ideological language. As finance minister you are pretty much confined.” – Govan Whittles