ANALYSIS | SA’s economy is in a blizzard, and Mboweni’s tweets are just one snowflake

At least three ANC top six officials, including President
Cyril Ramaphosa, have cautioned Tito Mboweni against his apparently
controversial public statements and Twitter rant – but that’s as far as it

The finance minister enjoys the backing of the president and
it seems that any lobby to push out Mboweni will not be given oxygen. 

His plan to approach the International Monetary Fund for
funding has been endorsed by the ANC national executive committee and the
party’s focus now has been geared on an economic recovery plan

In conversations with ANC officials, Mboweni was said to
have been told that contradicting Cabinet colleagues is unbecoming of a finance
minister and taking his frustrations to Twitter was ill-advised. 

Mboweni was further cautioned that his long-standing critics
in the NEC would use his Twitter rants to “eat him alive”. 

By the time the ANC’s NEC met on Thursday, Mboweni’s critics
– who are known to be opposed to his push to access funding from the
International Monetary Fund – appeared to have found a gap in the form of his
Twitter rants to attack him. He was described as “ill-disciplined”
for telling Parliament he opposed the on-going cigarette ban in Cabinet and for
Tweeting that obeying majority or collective decisions felt like “swallowing
a rock”. 

But concessions from Mboweni’s supporters, including
Ramaphosa, that Mboweni’s utterances were inconsistent with the decorum of the
office of the minister of finance rendered the discussion closed. 

ANC economic policy guru Enoch Godongwana summed it as
follows: “All people were saying is that the office of the finance
minister requires a certain kind of decorum.”

Once that was widely agreed to, any effort by his opponents
to segue from Mboweni’s “ill-discipline” into opposition to Mboweni’s
economic plan fell through. 

Instead, the ANC NEC accepted and endorsed the plan to
approach the IMF for finance – an issue that has been a bone of contention for

ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte referred to an
attempt to stir controversy around Mboweni’s statement’s as “infantile
politics”, saying party officials were too busy dealing with the crises to
be concerned about petty squabbles. 

Quibbling while Rome burns

Duarte seemed to be of the view that the economic crisis as
a result of the coronavirus is too big to be fighting over tweets. 

It is probably not the last time Mboweni speaks out of turn
or makes known his feelings on social media and it would not be the last time
he is slated for it. 

The finance minister is known to insist that public debate
should be encouraged at a time when there is no clarity on how the economy will
rebound following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, the way Ramaphosa handled Mboweni’s controversy
allowed for the party not be drawn into a ruse of fighting over the finance
minister instead of dealing with what’s currently at hand. 

That approach led to the party taking a clear decision on
the IMF after an explanation that the ANC has never been opposed to accessing
funding from these international financing organisations as long as South
Africa’s sovereignty was not in question.

The NEC was told that the government was had the option to access
up to $50 million (R915m) from the World Bank and $4.2 billion (R77bn) from the
IMF with favourable loan conditions – better than the market. 

Ramaphosa poured water on a factional fight by not giving
oxygen to Mboweni’s controversial comments. This has allowed him to focus the
discussion on recalibrating SA’s ailing economy.

It has empowered them to push through a fractious issue of
IMF and World Bank funding and get on with the task. 

It has set the tone for what is to come: the party can’t be
distracted by personality politics amid an economic bloodbath. 

The focus now is revising the budget and reallocating R130
billion to give life to Ramaphosa’s R500 billion economic stimulus

Any effort to push out the finance minister is dead in the
water and now the work can go on and be appraised accordingly. 

Qaanitah Hunter is News24’s political editor and the author of Balance of Power: Ramaphosa and the future of South Africa (NB Publishers).

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