Malusi Gigaba took a swipe at his critics shortly after being sworn in at a muted ceremony in Pretoria on Friday night, saying he was no newcomer and had plenty of experience.
"I'm not new to government," he told reporters after the ceremony, at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guesthouse in Pretoria. "I've been in government for 13 years now and I have also served in the portfolio of public enterprises for four years and so I'm not new to the economic sector. I am an experienced politician with more than 21 years in the national executive committee of the African National Congress (ANC)."
Gigaba compared himself to former president Nelson Mandela and former finance minister Trevor Manuel when they were newcomers when he spoke to the SABC.
"I am sure that when President [Nelson] Mandela became president of the country, he had the particular challenge that he had never presided over a country before; the same applied to [Trevor Manuel] the finance minister in 1996; the same applied to the now outgoing minister Pravin Gordhan and others before me. They had never occupied these positions. I bring a wealth of political experience."
He also said he would put National Treasury and country first, on the back of concerns that he is perceived to be close to the controversial Gupta family, who were at loggerheads with his predecessor Pravin Gordhan. " At the top of my agenda is not the specific interests of a specific interest group, it is the overwhelming interests if the people of South Africa, most of whom are unemployed."
Gigaba repeatedly emphasised those who have been excluded from the economy, and hinted at a more radical agenda for Treasury.
"The president was quite forthright yesterday when he announced the changes in the executive that he wants us to improve on government efficiencies, he wants us to improve on stakeholder engagements, he wants us to develop and implement policies for radical economic transformation. That is my responsibility."
Asked about concerns around a credit downgrade for South Africa from rating agencies, Gigaba said he had been on the telephone with both Fitch and Moody's, and would be talking to Standard and Poor's next week.
He took small dig at his predecessor, saying those coming in and leaving the positions should work to maintain stability.
"It is natural that when there are changes, not only in the national executive, but also in the corporate sector and everywhere else, there will be concerns about those changes. We need to manage those changes and those who come into the new positions need to have that sense of responsibility and those that have left those positions also need to exercise their responsibility because we need to manage the transition in the national interest."
Gordhan earlier on Friday held a no-holds-barred press conference with his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas, where he took aim at Zuma and the Guptas.
Gigaba promised that he was not going to make any big changes to the Treasury administration. "I have not been given a list of people to walk into Treasury with," he said. The day after Gordhan's predecessor Nhlanhla Nene was axed during the catastrophic events of December 2015, the man put in his place, Des van Rooyen, walked into Treasury with two advisors understood to be close to the Guptas in tow.
"I don't come here gung-ho with an agenda to change the director-general (DG)," he said, referencing Lungisa Fuzile who was part of a tight team with Gordhan and Jonas. "I have known the DG for a long time, he is a very competent and able man, I support him fully in the administration of his duties, and so I don't think that we should entertain those concerns that there is going to be a reckless changing of the leadership on my part."
Asked if he was concerned that he had big shoes to fill, Gigaba shot back: "I'm not going to fill anybody's shoes. I've got my own shoes to fill that I am already wearing."Suggest a correction