30/03/2017 23:52 SAST | Updated 31/03/2017 13:06 SAST

Malusi Gigaba: The Young Lion From Eshowe

Our new finance minister did the near impossible and was loyal to both Mbeki and Zuma, and is now reaping the rewards.

President Jacob Zuma has reshuffled his Cabinet, removing former finance minister Pravin Gordhan along with his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has been announced as Gordhan's replacement in a surprise move. Sfiso Buthelezi, a Member of Parliament from KwaZulu-Natal, will be the new the new deputy minister, replacing Jonas.

Ten ministers, including Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and ten deputy ministers were affected by the reshuffle.

Gigaba took over the leadership of the ANC Youth League from Peter Mokaba and was re-elected three times in a row. His was a quiet watch as the longest-serving youth league president, from 1996 to 2004, and he earned the unflattering epithet of lapdog to then-president Thabo Mbeki. He was appointed as deputy home affairs minister in 1996. But he was careful to throw his lot in with Zuma when he replaced Mbeki and his star really rose under his fellow KwaZulu-Natal native. He received senior positions such as Minister of Public Enterprises in November 2010, but his move to Home Affairs in May 2014 was seen as a demotion. He however continued to align himself closely with Zuma -- and the controversial Gupta family -- and was said to be eyeing a position in the ANC top six.

Gigaba did the impossible and was loyal to both Mbeki and Zuma, being favoured by the latter despite his former status as an Mbeki man.

"He is a teacher by training," Siyabonga Mahlanga, Gigaba's special legal counsel, said in a previous interview with this reporter in 2012. "When you sit with him, he keeps a little black notebook and a ruler. He underlines things. He takes note of everything."

"Born to a priest and a nurse, my upbringing was both religious and clean," Gigaba has said.

Growing up in the 1970s in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, Gigaba did not become politically aware until his teens. "I don't want to lie and say I had a working-class background. I did not," he said. "There was always a car at home, food, electricity. We had a relatively comfortable life."

In a society where absent fathers are common, Gigaba's was the exception. "My dad would ensure that he would drop us off for the first day of school. By the time he was gone, he knew the principal and the teacher."

He has a few degrees under his belt. He finished his teaching degree and immediately enrolled for a master's degree in social policy, majoring in urban affairs and policy, despite having to run the youth league during the first year of his degree.

He puts it down to the "influence of the times" at the then University of Durban-Westville.

"UDW was the most conducive place to learn. Those guys were constantly debating. We felt just having a junior degree wouldn't take you anywhere," he said. "'Passing is compulsory if you are a comrade,' we used to say."

In November 2010, "Black Star", as Gigaba was affectionately called by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, received the call that would transform his life. President Jacob Zuma axed his public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan and put in place the more like-minded Gigaba.

Gigaba hit controversy as Minister of Public Enterprises when several SAA board members under the respected chair Cheryl Carolus walked out on his watch. At home affairs his reputation took a blow when he implemented arduous rules for those travelling with children, creating concerns around South Africa's tourism industry. However Gigaba, who has a flair for PR and how he projects himself, scored an improved grade on the Mail & Guardian's cabinet scorecard at the end of 2016, thanks in part to his handling of the proposed visit of homophobic American preacher Steven Anderson. He also hit back against Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba's comments about illegal immigrants in the city.

He was one of a few government leaders who showed up at the controversial Gupta family wedding in 2013. He recently seemingly sided with the family over the Oppenheimers in a court battle over a luxury airport terminal.

His strong affiliation to the Guptas has seen him heavily criticised following his appointment as finance minister.

The Mail & Guardian reported in 2014 that state security agents once investigated a mysterious offshore bank account opened in Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's name. The account was opened in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, when Gigaba was still public enterprises minister. His spokesperson denied any connection with the account or knowledge of the investigation.

In 2007, as home affairs deputy minister, he had to pay back R1020 for flowers he bought for his wife on the department's account, in error he later said.

Gigaba, a former youth league "young lion", represents a new generation of leaders in the ANC, something Zuma referenced in his statement, saying: "The changes bring some younger MPs and women into the National Executive in order to benefit from their energy, experience and expertise."

He is a driven and ambitious politician, and his hopes to be elected to the top six of the ANC may be fulfilled very soon.

Khulekani Ntshangasi, who has worked with Gigaba for more than 10 years in various departments, has said in a previous interview: "He has got age on his side.

"Who knows what could happen in the next 20 years?"