Nene is gone! Creecy and Mashatile – choices present caretaker Ramaphosa with a conundrum

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene

South Africa had two Nene moments in the last almost 36 months. In November of 2015, former president Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene from leading the treasury, he had assumed that role since he as deputy succeeded Pravin Gordhan. When Zuma fired Nene and momentarily appointed Des Van Rooyen, all hell broke loose and Zuma was forced by every power that defines colonialism and apartheid and their benefactors within and outside the ANC to part with his decision. The campaign against Zuma’ s decision led with a charge of South Africa having lost billions because of this decision to have Nene removed. A fully-fledged campaign was launched to tell South Africans that the country in regard to its economy must be restored back to before the Nene moment in 2015. It has therefore been the overarching mission to bring SA back to a prior November 2015 ‘Nene moment’.

We did not have to wait long for that, when the new ANC president and current caretaker President of SA, Cyril Ramaphosa announced his maiden cabinet he restored Nhlanhla Nene to this post when Malusi Gigaba was dropped. It is clear Ramaphosa did not do any due diligence on Nene.

It is October 2018, we are having another Nene moment, brought about due to his own confessions before the State of Capture Commission in which he details his non-disclosure of having had seven meetings with the now leprous Gupta family. Don’t forget, in SA’s new discourse if you remotely had interacted or engaged with the Guptas’ shadow you are leprous and must be quarantined, but you can meet Rupert, Oppenheimer, Koseff, Watson or Joffe every day and you are naturally extended a clean bill of health because SA remains what it is, a nation in the grip of historical political and continuing economic white power. Nene is virtually history, and Ramaphosa is about to make an announcement on his choice to lead Treasury, he has to in any case announce his first cabinet reshuffle, since the ANC and SA lost its Minister of Forestries, the unique Edna Molewa who was also laid to rest this past weekend. Nene, therefore, is history; the interesting question is who will replace Nene? Before we deal with the advanced candidates, that apparently depicts the binaries of black and white in this instance let us engage a history of Treasury appointments from the dawn of democracy.

In order to appreciate this replacement question, it becomes important to contextualise the ministry of Treasury, which details from the beginning of democracy a strange phenomenon. If we ask when did Treasury become such a powerful unique ministry, we may be mistaken to assume such timing. It then becomes important to ask who did Mandela as the first SA president in Democracy appoint? Well, when Mandela, the icon for many, put his team together to lead SA into what we all hoped as the start of comprehensive transformation, it was not an apartheid classified African, Coloured or Indian he appointed.

South Africa’s first Minister of Finance, Derek Keys, a politician by profession who served from 30 August 1931 – 29 April 2018, was in effect and truth apartheid’s last minister of finance. Keys served in both De Klerk and Mandela’s cabinets respectively from the periods of 1992 to September 1994.

Given the fact that Mandela’s cabinet was a result of a negotiated settlement, we can easily accept that the position of treasury became a negotiated deal. We also can now accept that the appointment of Derek Keys came from a strong lobbying of the economic interest role players who had abundant access to influence, if not direct Mandela’s choice.  One sometimes involuntarily wonder what the State of Capture, had it in terms of reference been extended to inculcate this era, would have made of the many meetings Mandela had with among some Clive Menell, Harry Oppenheimer, even a Douw Steyn and who knows else.

The idea of the Treasury is a special ministry that needs to be guarded more than all was borne from this racialised thinking, where whites are trusted to do a good job of finance and blacks not. The ANC back then already it appears, lacked the trust in self to appoint somebody who did not share the denotation of white as predetermined by colonial and apartheid illegitimate regimes.

When Derek Keys fell ill and was relieved in September 1994, Mandela with another opportunity to prove transformative failed to heed that, he instead took refuge in appointing a banker, the Nedbank executive Chris Liebenberg, who was appointed Minister of Finance of South Africa and served from 19 September 1994 to 4 April 1996.   Since Liebenberg was not a member of any political party, accommodating him in Mandela’s cabinet warranted the amendment of the constitution. All this time the ANC saw nothing wrong to argue a rationale for economic transformation with treasury as the driver, it accepted Mandela’s second choice against transformation without any question or critical reflection.  Was this the evidence that even the ANC did not believe in itself or the apartheid oppressed identity to be capable to lead Treasury?

Later on, Mandela appointed Trevor Manuel, effective from 4 April 1996 he served in that office until the start of the 4th term in May 2009. Even when Manuel was appointed by Mandela at the time it was with a proviso that Chris Liebenberg hangs around to hold Manuel’s hand for a six-month period.

This suggests the ANC from Mandela lacked the confidence and presence of mind to be decisive in positioning treasury at the forefront as a toolbox for transformation. It instead appeared willing to accept that it collectively lacks the ability to lead treasury and that apartheid whites were skilled at that.  For some, Manuel’s appointment as a novice on many scores and surprisingly, also in a mellifluous sense, was an appointment of another ‘white ‘identity, because he was mistaken to either be English or Jewish purely on his external appearance. (South Africa is, unfortunately, a country where one still gets tagged by looks to determine one’s identity)

Treasury under Manuel, who remains the longest-serving finance minister in democracy, became a formidable force and the groundswell that gradually assumed the character of a superior-ministry, when it under Mbeki was allowed a sense of free-will to lead in initiating and implementation of policy decisions that resulted in a softer ear for white monopoly capital, overseeing gratuitous outflows of capital. We lived through an epoch of several drops in exchange rates for import duties, concessions on allowing corporates such as Old Mutual and many others to leave SA and list on the London Stock Exchange. It didn’t take long for the historical, political and ongoing economic powers to settle into an acceptance of Manuel, who nowhere threatened the status quo of economic disparity but sought to maintain the status quo under the guise of stringent fiscal discipline ethos as the totality of what came to define Treasury in democracy.

Economic transformation was sacrificed for a need to appease the World Bank and biased rating agencies to prove SA as masters of fiscal discipline, which became the so-called success story of the Manuel and Mbeki years. Aided by a global booming economic period, what Manuel did at Treasury became the standard for SA and it didn’t matter to the ANC that economic transformation was not realised. Instead, BEE policy – pollution, where a handful of connected individuals, their families and circle of friends benefitted, became the defining architecture of a claimed successful economic transformation as managed by Treasury.

The ANC again failed to develop a coherent plan and, in the deficit of clear intent, to use Treasury as a means to a necessary end. Those who will defend Mbeki will say that he did exactly what you’re protesting the ANC failed in, with his intentions for BEE, but the reality details that under Mbeki we had GEAR and ASGISA and they produced nothing for the poor but continued the perpetuating of a protection of the interest of apartheid beneficiaries. Instead of overseeing aggressive economic transformation where the masses benefit, the managing of SA indicators in compliance to international western powers, unapologetically aligned to white interest, became the central focus for this ministry while it now mushroomed into a superpower-ministry claiming a   legitimacy because it maintained stringent fiscal discipline. Mbeki, therefore, kept the Finance Minister of Mandela’s GNU cabinet.

Fast-forward to a post-Manuel period, Pravin Gordhan the pharmacist who also was a Manuel protégé, was appointed by Jacob Zuma with the advent of the 4th term in May 2009 and he remained that until May 2014. You will recall how Manuel and Gordhan’s appointments were interpreted as non-Nationalist stances, where these whom apartheid did not classify as African were favoured at the expense of what apartheid defined as African. Commentary ran wild that the ANC continued its now tradition of mistrust of the African identity to lead this ministry. In a sense, what Mandela started with as a forced or lobbied Keys appointment, his later choice of Liebenberg who was to hand-hold Manuel who despite his, for some, white physical trademarks out of a known history, remains classified by apartheid as Coloured. Manuel was succeeded by Gordhan whom apartheid declared an Indian, it, therefore, meant, if Apartheid’s race classification identities had served this office, it was favouring three dominant classifications (White, Coloured and Indian) with a glaring absenteeism of the apartheid African identity. Having an apartheid classified identity to lead Treasury did not happen until 2014.

It then came as no surprise that the time had come for apartheid’s African identity to fill the position, given the ANC’s national question on identity that delineates an African in particular and blacks in general notion. given the ANC’s national question on identity that delineates an African in particular and blacks in general notion.  Zuma’s choice was a much-reported advent when Nhlanhla Nene was appointed at the inception of the fifth term in May 2014, and many buoyantly declared him SA’s first true African in charge of Treasury. Some of us vehemently protested this claim because we already had a Manuel and Gordhan who were just as African.

Nene is releasing himself this week making it easy for Ramaphosa to decide on his new finance minister, so we assume. The question becomes will it be easy for Ramaphosa and who are the contenders? Will Ramaphosa return to the pressurised ‘logic’ of Mandela or will he continue to let the apartheid African identity stand, which his predecessor in three instances opted for with Nene, Van Rooyen and later Gigaba?

The contenders we are told are Gauteng ANC MEC for Finance, Barbara Creecy and in internally veiled but increasingly more vocal sense, ANC Treasurer Paul Mashatile. The debate on the next appointment comes clouded with a floating gender subject matter that some seek to make the epicentre. I will dare to dismiss this as frivolous because the ANC as an organisation has long fulfilled its own set-out obligation to have gender parity. Bringing gender into the fray may very well be, at this stage, a pure deflection. Creecy has led the Gauteng Treasury and is a candidate because she runs the biggest budget of SA’s provinces. She also is a candidate because she has continued to run Gauteng with the template of fiscal discipline as the overarching theme. When it comes to a budget that practically depicts transformation for the poor, Gauteng stands accused of neglecting its poor. The current challenge in apartheid spatial communities of townships as earmarked for racial classification, for example, the Coloured communities are not devoid of its claims of this ill budgeting on the part of Creecy and her Gauteng ANC leadership.

When it comes to a budget that practically depicts transformation for the poor Gauteng stands accused of neglecting its poor. The current challenge in apartheid spatial communities of townships as understood on the diaphragm of racial classification, for example, the Coloured communities are not devoid of its claims of this ill budgeting on the part of Creecy and her Gauteng ANC leadership. To corroborate this assertion against the Gauteng ANC and its MEC of Finance, Barbara Creecy, we can hear the October 7, Media statement of the #TotalshutdownofGauteng update. It reads, “The Gauteng Shut down Coordinating Committee (GSCC) met with more than 12 Communities, today, representing the Voiceless so-called Coloured people of to plan a sustained offensive against the State who consciously decided to exclude us from the country and provinces purse.” [sic]

Nothing can be clearer than this that the GSCC group red-cards the Gauteng province on transformation. While Creecy may have proven strong on fiscal management, she must own up to a budget that does not accommodate transformation if this statement is taken for what it is.On the other hand, we know that Paul Mashatile, the current ANC Treasurer General is pushing from inside in a strange twist of events to unify the position of Treasurer General of ANC and that of SA Finance Minister. The apparent logic for this claim emanates from what he and others advance as most liberation movements who end up leading nations they freed to have their party Treasurer Generals serve as Finance Ministers. On another score, it is also claimed that fusing these two positions may take the ANC out of its own financial predicaments, whatever that may mean and however that may be defined or by whatever means we do not claim to know.

The choices before Ramaphosa with Creecy and Mashatile appears to straight-jacket him into the choice of appeasing the never gratifying interest of white monopoly capital, who will naturally be satisfied by a Creecy presence in that space. Unfortunately, the lines are long drawn and often depicts a simplistic binary of white preference to what is black for this office, at least as seen from corporate SA. Therefore, a Creecy appointment may regain Ramaphosa some ground that he definitely had lost with white voters with his recent noises on land expropriation, who at first glance considered him the second coming of Mandela, even draping him in now vaunted ‘ramaphoria’ kaftans.

The contest between these two has another dynamic to it. Remember Barbara Creecy spent the balance of her political life as a provincial backbencher. It is therefore Mashatile that brought her into a sense of MEC limelight. She thus owes allegiance to him for that. Is this Mashatile’s means to get a hold of the SA treasury?

Either way, Mashatile stands to gain because his protege Creecy if successful will have it difficult to forget it was Mashatile to whom she owes gratitude.

This makes Ramaphosa’s choice even more complicated. Ramaphosa must also provide reasons why he is letting Nene go for mere meetings since he cannot fault Nene on work delivered. Should he decide to hold on to Nene he runs the political risk of being touted a weak leader who supports Gupta capture.  He also will have to explain why he wants to fire anyone else in his cabinet who have been associated in meetings with the leprous family of SA business the Guptas.

Yet, Ramaphosa is also pressured to reward Mashatile who vociferously campaigned for him as a CR17 hardliner, critical in pushing fronts to have him earlier installed and deliver the SONA, despite Ramaphosa’s publicly stated transition comments that engaged a process. Mashatile can claim he is owed and if the ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe was rewarded with a plush cabinet posting, why can he not be equally rewarded. Yet Ramaphosa knows that daring to appoint Mashatile will run the risk of delegitimizing his claims of hoping to have a ‘clean team’, whatever that may mean, or as it is often claimed, to keep Treasury pure from essentially Gupta influence. You can bet your bottom teetering Rand that as soon as Ramaphosa awards Mashatile, the same media will unleash every claim, real or fake, in an apparent closet that Mashatile has been tagged with over an extensive period of time. White monopoly capital will never trust Mashatile to lead South Africa’s finance ministry; we know that they do control Ramaphosa’s choices no different to how it controlled Mandela’s choices for the office of Treasury.

This Nene moment proves interesting because he is not tagged for having done a bad job, he is tagged with the convenient leprosy of Gupta association. Nene is history because he went to the now leper’s colony and is contaminated, it has nothing to do with his abilities to run treasury or not. In fact, in this silly season, it does not matter, as long as you have not been to the leper’s colony (Gupta’s) you are clean and ready to serve.

One can only wonder why and how SA arrived at this convenience of capture blame in Gupta association when Rupert, Oppenheimer and all others summoned ANC leaders to their houses and instructed them on choices. Remember how Fikile Mbalula was summoned and instructed by Johan Rupert as per Gayton McKenzie’s book, “Kill Zuma by any means”

Ramaphosa is caught between a rock and a hard place if it is about these two choices. If its Creecy, he will continue to ostracize himself from those whom he relies on to make his caretaker role a permanent five-year term. He will be accused as winding the proverbial clock backwards in white trust as exclusive for the treasury ministry. His choice for Mashatile will put him at war with those who do not trust any apartheid African leader in the made-hallowed office of Finance Minister. Mashatile will be attacked from every corner in the media.

Whatever Ramaphosa’s choice, he is facing a form of a Rubicon with this appointment, since reappointing Nene was easy because the anger of those who hated Zuma afforded him to make that choice, less in rationality but in political savviness, as the one to fix his predecessor’s mess-up.

Tonight, he is confronted to make a choice, that may confirm his Mandela aspirations even in fault lines or his choice to continue what his predecessor Zuma started, to make the ministry equal to all where anyone and definitely an apartheid classified African can lead. Ramaphosa must choose carefully because his personal political career is again on trial with his choice for SA’s next Minister of Finance. He is still dealing with the crisis of illegitimacy and remains mistrusted on many fronts.

He en-route to May 2019 elections days is still dealing with the crisis of legitimacy and remains mistrusted on many fronts, choosing his next finance minister may prove more challenging than what meets the eye.

Clyde Ramalaine is a Political Commentator and Writer