By Jane Rosen
South Africa entered its second phase in limbo this week. The first stage was waiting to see if Jacob Zuma would get his two thirds majority. The second phase has been waiting to see who Zuma was going to elect as his cabinet. There has been much venom injected into the judgements of the president’s choices of ministers. For many of them, the appointments seem to be a reward for loyal support in the past, the first sign of agenda being put before competence. What has caused the most stress, however, was whether or not Trevor Manuel was going to keep his 13-year-long position as Minister of Finance, and if not, whether he would still be a part of Zuma’s cabinet.
Trevor Manuel, the world’s longest serving finance minister, has earned a lot of respect from South Africans and the world, especially for his economic policies during the recession. His policies embody the ‘right’ ideology of ex-president Thabo Mbeki’s capitalist mentality and this is exactly what Zuma and his comrades detest.
With his new appointment as head of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Manuel, like many other newly appointed ministers, is heading up a special body of which he has no real experience.
The NPC aims to co-ordinate micro and macro economies and serve as a watchdog for all the other committees. It is therefore a government-wide plan, with Manuel holding the whip and watching to see if anyone crosses the deep etched line of fraud, corruption and any other bad behaviour.
On the one hand, it is a very positive role in that – if it is a success – it will be able to co-ordinate the redevelopment of both internal and external infrastructures together with other main priorities like education, health and job creation. On the other hand, however, there is a degree of uncertainty around the compatibility of this new NPC and the other three economic entities: the National Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Economic Development Department. Whether the inevitable competition between these ministries could be a good or bad thing remains to be seen. For now, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the new Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, is filling the gap rather than somebody inexperienced – which could have easily been the case.
Gordhan was Manuel’s right-hand man for the duration of his 13 year reign and was a key player in Manuel’s success. Gordhan has big shoes to fill, but at the same time, it is a relief for both national and international markets that Gordhan will be playing with the pennies. This is not to say that the economy is completely safe; there are concerns about how Gordhan will respond to the demands from the Left.
Ebrahim Patel has been appointed as the new Minister of Economic Development. With his strong ties to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) we have evidence that the Left will be having more say in the way the economy is run. To add to this concern, there are the limitations that time has on the progression of these new ministries. With Jacob Zuma leading South Africa, it is perhaps the most vulnerable time for the markets and the cabinet can not afford time to waste on trying to get themselves on the track.
The most recent challenge now seems to be whether Zuma’s new ministers will be able to get with the program and implement the policies that have been thrown around and debated about for the last few months. For Manuel, the biggest challenge is whether or not he can manage his new position and simultaneously stick his fingers into all the other department’s pies.