South Africa and Resignation of Finance Minister: A South Africa or a slap on Ramaphosa’s Government?

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When South African President Cyril Ramaphosa took over power from the corrupt-ridden former President Jacob Zuma, Mr. Ramaphosa promised a new South Africa and vowed to vigorously stamp out corruption amongst South African leaders. In view of this, the resignation of Nhlanhla Nene as the country’s finance minister amidst his alleged meetings with the infamous Gupta family has generated discussions, as well as different interpretations in the South African political arena.

President Ramaphosa accepted Nhlanhla Nene’s resignation and replaced him with Tito Mboweni; a move, which has been applauded worldwide and sent the markets bouncing positively, with the South African Rand strengthened against the US dollar. The appointment of Mr. Mboweni, who was South Africa’s eighth governor of the central bank and the first pro-apartheid black South African central governor, has been welcomed in many quarters. He is seen as a capable hand, having worked as labour minister in former President Nelson Mandela’s administration.

Nemesis caught up with Nhlanhla Nene after admitting he had a couple of meetings with the controversial Gupta family at their homes and offices. That was a contradiction to his previous statement that they met only at public events. The Gupta family has been enmeshed in the corruption and bribery allegations and has been accused of having enormous power and influence in the Zuma government, to the extent that they allegedly influence the government ministerial appointments. Despite all the allegations, former President Zuma stubbornly resisted calls to probe the Gupta scandals. Nor did it help that Zuma’s son and wife worked for the Guptas. In spite of the political earthquake the Gupta Gate scandal generated, former President Zuma had vigorously denied the allegations that he has a strong, lucrative business relationship with the Guptas. Nor did Zuma honour multiple calls for his resignation.

With the ascension of President Cyril Ramaphosa as the President, who promised a zero-tolerance of corruption, the resignation of Nhlanhla Nene is seen in some quarters as a clear indication and some would say, a warning, by the new government of South Africa, that the age of impunity is over. This group of people argues that the resignation would not have been possible under the Zuma government, which was terribly dented by corruption allegations. Nene’s resignation, the group argues, is indeed remarkable because there was, so far, no evidence of any wrongdoing against him.

The resignation of Mr. Nene, some people argue, has signalled a new era in South Africa, which puts responsibility at the centre. That means accepting the responsibilities for one’s actions and taking a dignified exit if need be, rather than being waited to be forcefully pushed out. But not everyone thinks so. Some individuals have interpreted the Nene’s resignation as yet another indication that President Ramaphosa’s government is still entangled in the web of corruption. They pointed out that Mr. Nene initially denied meeting the Guptas more than once and never in their homes.

Clearly, in the African political terrain, where impunity reigns, it takes courage for one to accept mistakes or be punished or sanctioned for wrongdoings. With this in mind, one must applaud the extraordinary courage of both the former finance minister and President Ramaphosa, especially, having in mind that Nhlanhla Nene was part of the President’s inner circle.

It is, therefore, not strange a question for anyone following the South African political affairs to ask whether the dignified steps taken by former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and sanctions by President Ramaphosa would have been possible under former President Zuma’s watch.

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