In an unprecedented move last week that stunned the entire nation and the global community alike, South African President Jacob Zuma made a unilateral decision to remove respected Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene and replace him with relatively unknown David Van Rooyen, a candidate seen as inexperienced and under-qualified for such a crucial position.
The controversial decision taken on December 9 led to an immediate drop in the strength of the rand and dented investors' confidence in South Africa, many of whom wasted no time in pulling their money out of the country.
The decision met with harsh criticism from opposition parties, economists, the media and the public, who all agreed it would have a devastating impact on the economy.
What was particularly disturbing about this decision was that President Zuma entered into little or no consultation with his cabinet before making the announcement, nor did he provide a reason for such a drastic measure. The overriding sentiment among many is that Zuma was once again reacting in the usual corrupt style that he is notorious for, because Minister Nene was not playing ball the way he wanted him to.
Nene had declined demands by beleaguered national airline South African Airways (SAA) for funds for a deal with Airbus. Nene also refused Zuma's request for a new private jet and resisted the president's proposed $100 billion nuclear deal. As anyone who has crossed paths with Zuma can attest, if you don't jump to his tune you're out. .
Nene tried to keep a tight reign on the national treasury and prevent unnecessary spending by a #Government that blatantly squanders money and stuffs as much into their own pockets as they can. Zuma himself has spent $13 million of the taxpayers money on upgrades and renovations to his personal homestead. Appointing a puppet like Van Rooyen would mean Zuma can have easy access to the purse strings.
Mmusi Maimane, who leads one of South Africa's major opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA), expressed grave concern. “Nene fought for fiscal discipline. The implication of this on the economy is that South Africa is now seen [by investors] as unstable. Former minister Trevor Manuel served for two terms. For Zuma to fire Nene after just over a year is a clear indication of instability within his administration. This will have huge implications for job creation. It is very irresponsible."
Following the severe backlash from all sectors of society, and many urgent representations made to the president to reconsider, Zuma made an about-turn a mere four days after the axing of Nene.
He shifted David van Rooyen out of the finance porfolio and reinstated Pravin Gordhan, who has previously occupied the position. Minister Gordhan has a sound track record in the finance portfolio and was no doubt Zuma's way of trying to re-establish confidence in South Africa.
The damage, however, is done. The international community must surely view South Africa's leadership as fickle, unstable and reckless following a debacle that saw the country end up with three finance ministers in less than a week.
Internally, South Africans are fed-up. This latest display of arrogant autocracy by a self-serving leader has opposition parties calling for President Zuma to be recalled from office and has sparked the #ZumaMustFall campaign that has been trending across social media and prompted many to take to the streets in mass protests across the country on Wednesday, December 16. #World Politics