WHILE some celebrated last week’s appointment of Malusi Gigaba as South Africa’s new Minister of Finance by President Jacob Zuma as a bold and necessary move, others criticised this as reckless in the face of a troubled economy. Gigaba has stewarded the Ministries of Public Enterprises and Home Affairs with diligence, and this bodes well for South Africa as he prepares to take up the mantle as our Finance Minister.
Yet, despite a proven track record, and his trademark accessibility to media, which he has displayed over the past few days, his announcement as South Africa’s finance minister has largely failed to garner the confidence of media. This was largely because of the popularity (in the media) of the person he replaced, former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and suspicions, in some quarters, that President Zuma had ulterior motives when he effected cabinet reshuffle. There has been little focus on the confident and keen articulation of Gigaba’s vision as South Africa’s incoming minister, or on his steady reassurance that he will be responsive to the concerns of world markets as he steers the course of radical economic transformation within South Africa.
The media has chosen rather to pen headlines and stories on untested allegations of Gigaba’s connection to the Gupta family, and to give credence to the fake news that a nuclear deal was signed this weekend by Gigaba, an untruth the Treasury dismissed unequivocally. As already stated, Gordhan curries considered favour in the mainstream media, both locally and globally. For now, Gigaba will not only have to battle a troubled economy, where growth slowed to 0.3% in 2016 (from 1.3% in 2016), but also with a largely hostile media.
African Times, is by design a fresh, independent voice, with a unique and authentic Afrocentric perspective. Our headlines and stories are not crafted on the back of innuendos, unfounded allegations, or personal attacks. We will cast judgement on our new Minister of Finance, on the basis of his policy implementation and the tangible impact he makes, particularly across the poorest of our nation who have yet to participate fully in the economy of South Africa. We will judge him on his management of the economy, commitment to fiscal discipline and his quest to ensure an inclusive growth. We will also pass judgments on the extent to which Treasury under him serves all South Africans – not just a few such as big business, ratings agencies, world markets and the powerful elites.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Gigaba stated that he does not intend to step into someone’s shadow or shoes. He said: “I have my own shoes that I’m wearing. I understand the responsibility with which I have been entrusted. I am not new to government. I have been in government for 13 years now and I have also served for four years in the portfolio of public enterprises. I am not new to the economic sector.”
Markets tend to frown on change; more so when radical change is being proposed. On Monday night, rating agency S&P gave South Africa a negative outlook; downgrading the country to junk-status. Hostile market reaction and a plunge in currency have accompanied the heralding in of other finance ministers, including Trevor Manuel in 1996. Straddling the dictates of foreign markets and the local imperative for radical economic transformation will be Gigaba’s biggest challenge.
Previous finance ministers have inclined towards placing world market considerations first, and consequently radical economic transformation has emerged as a poor second. Generations of oppressive and racist exclusionary measures of colonialism and apartheid impact heavily on today’s patterns of economic ownership and wealth, and the majority of black South Africans remain on the sidelines of our economy.
A meaningful impact would mean that Gigaba must place these people first. He will need to display resilience and courage in his dealings with the markets, one that inspires confidence built on the active empowerment and transformation of the South African economy for the benefit of its people – especially the poorest — who have been excluded from participation and marginalised since the new dispensation kicked in 23 years.
Reasserting the push for radical economic transformation, which has of recent become the signature tune of President Zuma, Gigaba said: “As government, our focus is now very much on radical transformation of our economy so that all who live in South Africa can benefit from the economy. Tough and unpopular choices will have to be made to ensure such a vision”
To win the confidence of the majority of South Africans, Gigaba will need to foster tangible transformation in key sectors of the economy, particularly within the financial sector. A strong stance against corruption in the public and private sector, and his response to the Public Protectors report into apartheid era corruption as identified in the CIEX report, will be pivotal to his success in finding a real stronghold across his breadth of stakeholders.
So too, will his ability to work with ministers in key aligned portfolios, especially in Land Affairs, in order to fast-track land return, the foundational pillar of radical economic transformation, without which true economic liberation will remain little more than an unfilled expectation. Gigaba would do well too, if he were able to unlock funding for free tertiary education within the Treasury purse, something his predecessor was unable or willing to do.
To be fair to him, Gigaba has so far made the right noises about steps needed to radically transform our economy and ensure an inclusive economic growth. If he lives up to expectations, and be the last line of defence against those who might see Gordhan’s removal as an opportunity to loot the public purse, Gigaba might well be the kind of finance minister the country needs at this point in time to fast-track inclusive growth and ensure systematic economic transformation. But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Rhetoric alone won’t be enough. We will be watching with keen interest.
Piet Rampedi is editor of African Times