Mboweni steps on hot coals.

Author:Parker, Mushtak
Position:Around Africa: South Africa

The musical chairs at the South African finance ministry continue as Nhlanhla Nene finds himself out and Tito Mboweni finds himself in. But can the flamboyant, and controversial former governor of the Reserve Bank pull the country out of the economic quicksand it is currently mired in? Mushtak Parker reports.

His predecessor Nhlanhla Nene was famously dull --albeit seen as a figure of stability, which was one of the reasons why the banking industry and financial markets liked him.

But when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the appointment of Tito Mboweni as the country's new Finance Minister with immediate effect on 9 October, following Nene's untimely resignation, the contrast could not have been starker.

In the space of a mere nine months, the incumbent at the National Treasury in Pretoria has been changed from a boring technocrat to a social media sensation, especially on Twitter, where Mboweni's trending reached rock star status. It almost seemed that Mboweni was tempting fate about a pending elevation, when he tweeted in September--"Maybe time to say goodbye".

The idiosyncrasies do not end there. Which other finance minister can claim to have a hit record named after him? When that Messiah of Mammon, rapper Cassper Nyovest, launched the track Tito Mboweni in 1017, the music video of the hit single got 2m views on YouTube in two months. That track resurfaced last month and went viral after Mboweni was named Finance Minister.

The British-educated Mboweni is also an aficionado of hot chillies, with a penchant for participating in chilli-eating contests--whether in Kenya, Rwanda or elsewhere. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he has landed perhaps in the hottest seat in South African politics--the National Treasury.

The fifth Finance Minister in three years, his job is to steer the economy, which is technically in recession and where GDP growth has contracted for the first two quarters of 2018. The outlook remains fragile.

The Treasury's current forecast of a GDP growth rate of 1.5% for 2018 is woefully short of the 5% growth rate required to start making a dent in the 27% unemployment rate; or to meaningfully deliver on the wider promises successive ANC governments have made ranging from rooting out cronyism and corruption, to providing more electrification in deprived areas and affordable housing.

Nhlanhla Nene's fall from grace was precipitated when the ghosts of the Gupta family scandal returned to haunt him. He...

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