POLITICS
27/02/2018 05:51 SAST | Updated 27/02/2018 05:52 SAST

Nene Returns To Finish What He Started

Treasury has had five ministers in less than four years. But former director-general Lungisa Fuzile believes Nhlanhla Nene's reappointment is justice.

Nhlanhla Nene delivers his one and only budget speech on 25 February 2015. He was dismissed later that year by then president Jacob Zuma. He has now been reappointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
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Nhlanhla Nene delivers his one and only budget speech on 25 February 2015. He was dismissed later that year by then president Jacob Zuma. He has now been reappointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Nhlanhla Nene "is the perfect fit" to take the reins at National Treasury. He will ensure that critical institutions are stabilised and reformed while engineering economic growth, says former Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night restored Nene to his position in the national executive a little more than 26 months after then-president Jacob Zuma dismissed and replaced him with little-known ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen. Nene replaces Malusi Gigaba, who moves to the department of home affairs and who tabled the 2018/19 budget less than a week ago. Van Rooyen, a Gupta minister, was fired as minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of protestors march in Johannesburg on 16 December 2015, days after then president Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as minister of finance.

"Nene is the perfect fit, having served as chairperson of Parliament's standing committee on finance, as deputy minister under Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan and as minister himself.

"He had an outstanding 18 months at Treasury before he was fired. He stood for what is right and he did what is right. He'll be able to get to work immediately, he knows the place [Treasury]," Fuzile told HuffPost on Monday night.

We've now got two clean people (Mondli Gungubele will be Nene's deputy) again. This is nothing short of justice given the disgraceful manner in which Nene was treated in 2015.A senior Treasury staffer.

Fuzile, now CEO of Standard Bank South Africa, resigned last year shortly after Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as minister of finance. He said Nene's immediate job would be to stabilise key institutions (such as Eskom and other parastatals) and to get the economy growing again.

A senior staffer at Treasury also said the finance team will be "extremely happy" with the changes when they get back to work on Tuesday. "We've now got two clean people [Mondli Gungubele will be Nene's deputy] again. This is nothing short of justice given the disgraceful manner in which Nene was treated in 2015."

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Then president Jacob Zuma looks on as David van Rooyen is sworn in as minister of finance on 10 December 2015.

Following Nene's removal in December 2015 the rand lost 80 cents against the dollar, 90 cents against the euro and 110 cents to the pound. South African bonds and equities lost more than half a trillion rand in value while the Public Investment Corporation suffered losses of R106.2-billion.

Van Rooyen was replaced within four days by Gordhan after Ramaphosa intervened. This happened after a meeting between Zweli Mkhize and Jeff Radebe with a group of major bankers and CEOs days after Nene's axing. Treasury has now had five ministers in four years, with one year still remaining in this government's term.

He was prepared to lose the privileges of office when he refused to make compromises which went contrary to his values and principles.Lungisa Fuzile, former Treasury director-general

"His [Nene's] reappointment is nothing less than a vindication for what he attempted to do at Treasury, an affirmation of his commitment. It shows that good people won't be abandoned," Fuzile said.

He added that Nene was someone with integrity and backbone. "He was prepared to lose the privileges of office when he refused to make compromises which went contrary to his values and principles. These compromises went against the reasons why he joined the struggle where so many made enormous sacrifices, some paying the ultimate price. He wasn't about to compromise on that."

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nhlanhla Nene, minister of finance, with his deputy Mcebisi Jonas (middle) and Lungisa Fuzile, Treasury director-general in 2015.

Nene was fired by Zuma a day after a meeting of the National Nuclear Energy Coordinating Committee, of which the then president was the chairperson, and less than a week after he clipped the wings of Dudu Myeni, then-chairperson of the SAA board. Fuzile previously said that, when he left the nuclear meeting with Nene, he got the "distinct impression" that "political considerations superseded technical, economic considerations".

According to the Treasury staffer, the institution had a difficult year since the firing of Gordhan on 30 March 2017. "We've lost good people, such as Fuzile and Michael Sachs [head of the budget office] and there's been an orchestrated campaign against us with the IFMS issue. But Nene, who was a very popular minister, will bring stability. He is coming back to finish his job."

According to Fuzile, "there is a lot to be done", but that much could be achieved in a short space of time if the correct interventions are undertaken. "He needs to stabilise, consolidate and then strengthen key institutions. There is no time to waste. He will then have to look at the economy and devise a strategy to ensure growth so that the economy serves the needs of everyone, all sectors of society, so that everyone can share in the wealth."

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA via Getty Images
Pravin Gordhan on the day after was fired as minister of finance on 30 March 2017. Next to him is Lungisa Fuzile, who resigned as Treasury director-general shortly afterwards.

He also recalled the day that Nene summoned him to his ministerial home in Pretoria to tell him what had happened. "I arrived at his house and he just said: 'It's happened, I'm out of a job.' But he told me, and the Treasury staff the following day, that the country needs a strong Treasury, that we need to stick together and keep the institution solid."

Nene will be sworn in as MP on Tuesday.