/ 15 April 2022

Treasury needs an insider director general

Director General Of South African National Treasury Dondo Mogajane Interview
Finance brains trust: (Above from left) Outgoing treasury director general Dondo Mogajane (also pictured below), Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, his deputy David Masondo and SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter. A new treasury head has to work with several departments. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

After 23 years of service, Dondo Mogajane is set to leave the treasury in June. Although an external candidate can’t be counted out — especially considering the treasury’s already reduced ranks — chances are slim that a total outsider will be asked to fill the director general role. 

The last time the treasury was headed by a relative newcomer was when Maria Ramos was appointed director general in 1996. Ramos, who served under then minister Trevor Manuel, came to the position with considerable political clout, having previously worked as an economist in the ANC’s department of economic planning.

In his statement announcing Mogajane’s departure, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana emphasised that, despite certain senior positions being vacant, the treasury has a deep reserve of skilled officials.

Speaking with the Mail & Guardian this week about the prospect of an outside appointment, Godongwana said the post will be open to both internal and external candidates.

“But traditionally, if you look from Maria Ramos, after Maria it was Lesetja Kganyago, who was drawn from inside,” the minister said.

“It was then Lungisa Fuzile, drawn from inside. After Lungisa Fuzile it was Dondo Mogajane, who was from inside. That is not to say that external candidates are not good. It is just that internal candidates have better exposure to the system. And they fit in quickly.”

Dondo Mogajane, director general of the South African National Treasury, Enoch Godongwana, South Africa’s finance minister, David Masondo, South Africa’s deputy finance minister, and Edward Kieswetter, commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), (left to right), make their way to the budget presentation in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. South Africa cut corporate taxes and set more ambitious targets for reducing debt, after a surge in commodity prices led to higher-than-expected tax income. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fitting in

In a recent interview, Mogajane named three possible external candidates that he deems good options to succeed him: Fundi Tshazibana, the deputy director of the South African Reserve Bank, adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Michael Sachs and Monale Ratsoma, who now heads up the New Development Bank’s Africa regional centre. 

But the three candidates whose names Mogajane has put in the hat are not, strictly speaking, outsiders, having all worked at treasury prior to pursuing jobs elsewhere. 

Kuben Naidoo’s name has also been put out there by commentators. Now a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, Naidoo is also a former treasury official. Naidoo was up for the job when Mogajane was appointed, but the fact that he came up under Manuel likely counted against him.

Analysts agree that someone from inside will likely be the preferred choice to take over from Mogajane, who is the longest serving treasury official in recent history to ascend to the role of director general. 

Mogajane’s predecessor Fuzile left the treasury in 2017 after 20 years of service. Kganyago, now the South African Reserve Bank governor, worked at the treasury for 15 years.

Commentator Zama Ndlovu, who has also worked at the treasury, noted that the department is a complex one. “The relationship between treasury and the departments, the entire budgeting process and the technicalities are not easy,” Ndlovu said.

“But then there is also the underlying politics of it all, which are hard to navigate. And I don’t see anyone coming in from the outside and being able to do that role without having been a treasury for a long time. That is why treasury has had this culture of appointing from within.”

Analyst Khaya Sithole also pointed out that the main consideration when weighing up possible candidates is the fact that treasury is a difficult department to navigate. “What you have is every other department essentially coming up with a wishlist, saying, ‘This is what we want to do and this is how we want to do it.’ And national treasury is the one that has to manage people’s expectations.”

The complexities of the treasury’s role means that the search for a new director general will prioritise people who have been part of the system long enough to identify red flags, Sithole said.

“This severely limits the possibility of an external candidate coming in. I think, if you’re looking for an external candidate, it will have to be someone who ticks the boxes of political clout and also bureaucratic experience,” he added. 

“Because most of the decisions that are taken at national treasury are informed by institutional wisdom … It’s very unlikely that a complete outsider will be able to pull that off.”

Fighting back

The finance minister will likely also be looking for a director general with the authority which will allow them to make often unpopular decisions and to wade into battle with political superiors, especially since austerity will continue to be the treasury’s line for the near future.

Mogajane’s predecessor was regarded as particularly strong in this regard, having to steer the treasury through the worst of the state capture years. As director general, Fuzile — who served in the position for six years before his departure from treasury in 2017 — pushed back against former president Jacob Zuma’s proposed nuclear deal

Reflecting on Fuzile’s tenure, Ndlovu said being an old hand has proven to serve a director general very well. “That is what the experience of treasury gives you. People who have been at treasury for a long time have the technical know-how and the experiences.”

It is also very important that the new director general has a strong relationship with the minister, Ndlovu said. “The relationship between the DG and the minister is the most important thing. It is important that the DG have technical know-how, without a doubt. But it is equally important that the DG have a strong relationship with the minister, because the DG will have to be the face of a lot of unpopular calls … The DG must know that they have the authority and the political power behind them.”

Sithole agreed. “You need someone with the political clout, so that they are able to say ‘no’ and be taken seriously, rather than someone who is going to say something and then get bypassed or ignored by the different ministries.”

Mogajane’s mettle was not tested in quite the same way as Fuzile’s was during the nuclear deal scandal. The closest Mogajane came to a crisis moment was when he was tasked with cutting the public sector wage bill. But even then, Mogajane had the support of the finance minister, Sithole pointed out.

“Had the crisis been different, or had the president been as convinced about a particular deal as the previous president had been, we do not know whether he would have stood his ground and been able to push back in the same manner as Lungisa did.”


Though every characteristic of a strong director general points to an internal hire as being the ideal scenario, this may be difficult considering the recent spate of resignations from the treasury. 

Edgar Sishi may be up for the job, but the fact that he has only recently been appointed to fill the long-empty role as the head of the budget office may also count against him. The same goes for Duncan Pieterse, who was appointed to replace Tshepiso Moahloli as the deputy director of assets and liabilities last October. 

In February, chief director of strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, Laura Mseme, told parliament that the treasury was looking to fill 67 vacancies.

According to Sithole, the treasury has suffered from poor succession planning.

“There are far too many acting positions … So unfortunately he [Mogajane] hasn’t done a particularly good job of grooming anyone in there that you could look at and identify as a prime candidate,” he said.