Maria Ramos, the new captain of Ship SA?


When the chief executive of an enterprise valued at R160-billion announces his or her intention to quit, good succession planning normally requires a long period of notice.

Absa chief executive Maria Ramos’s decision this week to quit with just a month’s notice led to immediate speculation that she is quitting for another job, such as a heavy-hitting position in the government.

Absa says it will take up to 10 months to replace her.

Broadcast journalist Bruce Whitfield speculated on Twitter that Ramos was heading to the South African Revenue Service (Sars) to fix the destruction wrought by Tom Moyane and his well-paid private sector advisers.

Ramos has run Absa for 10 years, Transnet for five years and the national treasury as director general for seven years, and so is up to the Sars job.

But there is potentially a bigger job in the offing.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who was appointed after the sudden departure of Nhlanhla Nene in October, told economists earlier this month in Johannesburg he won’t be around for Cabinet duty after May.

The question is: Will he last that long? He was conspicuously absent at Team SA’s line-up at its media briefing in Davos. President Cyril Ramaphosa, backed by his ministers of energy, health, economic development, public enterprises and international relations, was asked: “Where is the minister of finance?”

He responded: “He is in another session. So he has not gone awol.”

eNCA’s Annika Larsen went in search of Mboweni, reporting “the finance minister is an incredibly elusive man here in Davos. I have been back and forth across town and I have finally got hold of him and persuaded him to talk to us.”

She asked: “Why were you not at the big panel with our president leading the team when you’re such an integral part of this delegation?”

He replied that he had had meetings with the chief executive of Anglo American and “that company which bought SA Breweries, a very important taxpayer and employers in our society. I thought it very important that I meet these two chief executive officers.”

Since taking office in October, Mboweni has held forth on the need for e-tolls, closing loss-making SAA and questioning the wisdom of a national minimum wage. His e-toll comments ran into fierce headwinds from the Gauteng ANC; the minimum wage policy followed an exhaustive process; and his comments on closing SAA were slapped down by the president and Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan.

Mboweni suggests he will no longer be in the job in May. This seems a long way off, though, given that Ramaphosa is prioritising turning the economic ship around.

The unhappy experience of Malusi Gigaba at the helm, who seemed to think his job was to analyse the state of the economy rather than to find a plan to fix what he at least in part contributed to when he was minister of public enterprises, tells us we need a finance minister capable of steering a R5-trillion economy.

Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas have reportedly both previously turned down the job.

It appears that Ramos could step in, from as early as March, as the country’s first woman finance minister.

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Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie is M&G's business editor. A journalist for more than 30 years, he has worked in senior positions at most major titles in the country. Davie is a Nieman Fellow (1995-1996) and cyberspace innovator, having co-founded SA's first online-only news portal, Woza, and the first online stockbroking operation. He is a lecturer at Wits Journalism. In his spare time he can be found riding a bicycle, usually somewhere remote.

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