04/07/2017 13:24 SAST | Updated 04/07/2017 13:42 SAST

The Fall, Then Rise, Of Nhlanhla Nene

The former finance minister now adds interim head of the Wits Business School to his list of post-finance ministry successes.

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nhlanhla Nene.

Nhlanhla Nene's tenure as interim head of the Wits Business School commences on Tuesday, following an announcement by the University of the Witwatersrand on Friday that he would take over the position until a new head was appointed.

The former finance minister, one of three axed in two years alongside Des van Rooyen and Pravin Gordhan, was previously promised a nomination to a top job in the Brics New Development Bank after he was fired by President Jacob Zuma on 9 December 2015.

After the axing, Zuma said he had replaced Nene so he would be free to be nominated for the position of head of the African regional centre of the Brics bank, a position that never materialised.

Nene told eNCA in April 2016, four months after a nomination never materialised, he had "moved on" and found work in the private sector. He was appointed a non-executive director on the board of Allan Gray, a position he still holds, and became a resident advisor for Thebe Investment Corporation and later the chair of new Cape Town-based investment firm Arise on June 1, 2017.

In February 2017, Nene told eNCA's CheckPoint he took "gardening leave", which he "enjoyed very much".

He also said he remembered the public statement the Zuma made referencing his Brics position, saying that the president didn't have the reach to be able to appoint him to the Brics position himself.

"What I was also told, was that I have been nominated for that position. Beyond that I don't think the president has got the power to make the appointment," he said.

In an exclusive interview with HuffPost SA and News24 in early June, Nene said having to leave government "was a blessing in disguise".

"I think it was just a blessing in disguise that I stepped out the time that I did, it doesn't matter whether you get pushed or you step out on your own, but the fact of the matter is when your fate has been determined, you actually need to accept that it's a journey in life," he said.

"I didn't realise how much energy I have. I had a lot of energy with the work that I did [as finance minister], but I didn't realise how much inner energy I have until the time that I stepped out of what was becoming uncomfortable."

Wits lauds Nene's 'political credence and remarkable intellect'

On his appointment at Wits, Nene said in a press release: "It gives me great pleasure to join the WBC that will enable me to share my knowledge, experience and networks in order to empower and work with young, talented individuals, academics and business leaders".

He said Thebe Investment Corporation had made the appointment possible by allowing him "the necessary time and space to undertake this important task".

The Wits Business School said Nene's appointment follows the resignation of their former head, and he will "actively work with the Wits team to recruit a new leader for the School". Once a new head is appointed, most likely at the beginning of the new academic year, Nene will continue serving as a Scholar in Residence and Honorary Professor at the School.

Vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University, Adam Habib, said the institution was honoured to welcome Nene, adding his "political credence, business acumen and remarkable intellect" would position him to lead the School's search for a permanent head.

"His leadership, advice and insight at this pivotal time in our country's economic trajectory, will add value to the quality of courses, public lectures, debates and research that we offer," Habib said.

Leaked emails and the 'fabricated' letter from Nene

Nene last week decried a letter relating to the funding of Transnet's multibillion-rand locomotive procurement written in his name as a fabrication, according to a Business Day report.

Leaked emails reportedly revealed the letter was addressed to China Development Bank board chair Hu Huaibang in January 2015. The email's metadata, however, reportedly showed it was written by Tewodros Gebreselasi, an economic adviser with Gupta-owned company Regiments Capital.

The letter was "clearly a fake/fabrication and could not have come from my office," Nene said according to Business Day.

"It's worrisome. I do not understand it. It says a great deal about confidentiality, especially between the department and state owned entities. It's worrying as it could implicate [one] as minister of finance. This is completely unacceptable and the department [Treasury] must apply its mind to this," he said.

'Truth will out on alleged treasury corruption'

Nene in June told HuffPost SA and News24 he welcomed investigations into Treasury following ANN7's "exposé" of its "catastrophic audit report" which also implicated Nene. He said if the probe into Treasury is fair, the truth will prevail in spite of "so many lies" and attempts to "destroy" a small group in Treasury.

"It's going to take a lot of work to destroy but I believe that when you are in the middle of destroying something good, you realise that what you are going to do, what you are just about to do, is break a windscreen because you are trying to kill a fly," Nene said.