Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene said on Wednesday that he never again heard from president Jacob Zuma after his sacking.
When asked by News24 at the opening of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business satellite campus in Sandton on Wednesday night if Zuma contacted him after he left government for the private sector, Nene replied, “No.”
In response to another question about whether he believed Zuma had lied to him and the nation about the position at the Brics bank, Nene simply said, “I do not know.”
In 2015, Zuma told the nation that he was replacing Nene with the relatively unknown Des van Rooyen, because Nene’s name had been forwarded as a nomination to head the African Regional Centre of the New Development (Brics) Bank.
“We are fully backing his candidature, knowing full well that he will excel and make the nation proud in his next assignment. Government remains committed to adhering to the set expenditure ceiling while maintaining a stable trajectory of our debt portfolio, as set out in the February 2015 Budget,” Zuma said in a statement in December 2015.
“Our commitment to diversifying our economy, reduce the cost of doing business and utilising resources much more efficiently to enable a more inclusive economic growth remains important.”
Zuma’s decision to appoint Van Rooyen was met with wide criticism, and within days he bowed to pressure and appointed Pravin Gordhan to replace Van Rooyen.
Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, were subsequently axed in a dramatic Cabinet reshuffle in March this year, which saw the appointment of former home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, as the new finance minister.
There is still hope
Speaking to the media on Wednesday night, Nene said the country was facing a turbulent time, with problems affecting Treasury and the ANC, but there was still hope.
“We have a resilience as a nation… if you can go back to the history books to all the leaders that you can think of, you can place that leader in a particular challenge in time. And that is how leadership is produced. It gets tested by the environment that we are in.”
He said one of the successes of a democracy was a good plan.
“In some instances the reason why we have not made any progress is because some of our policies have not been implemented.”
What is missing, Nene said, was a buy-in from the electorate to implement those policies.
“In the midst of all of this negativity, we are beginning to lose focus… Our issues are mainly in the political space and having been in the private sector, I think that it was a blessing in disguise that I stepped out at the time that I did. [It] doesn’t matter whether you get pushed or you step out on your own.
“The fact of the matter is that when your fate has been determined, you need to accept that that is the genuine life that you must actually embrace and run with.
“I did not realise how much inner energy I had until I stepped out of what was becoming a comfort zone. It was a challenge, but we were beginning to run with it [Treasury], we had a good team but the challenges were like the spices of life.”
On the attack on Treasury, Nene said: “It is good when someone wants to investigate, but one always hoped that it is fair investigation because if it is a fair investigation, the truth will prevail.”
One thing Nene liked about the truth, he said, was that there was only one truth and many lies.
State capture, white monopoly capital
He said Treasury was one institution it was going to take a lot of work to destroy.
“Any sober person, I would want to believe, that in the middle of destroying something good… would realise that it is like trying to break the windscreen in trying to kill a fly, and the fly might not even die. It is heavy damage.”
On the terms that have become popular in the country – state capture, economic radical transformation and white monopoly capital – Nene said: “There is a problem in our country where we always want to be politically correct and no amount of political correctness is going to change our real problems.”
Radical economic transformation must include development and growth, he said.
“But if you are talking about radical economic transformation that begins to favour the few, that looks after a select few, then we will remain with a situation… [where a] vast number of our people will be left out.”
On the issue of white monopoly capital, Nene said: “I am afraid I do not subscribe to that. As a country we need a symbiotic relationship between the public and the private sector, we cannot build that relationship on name calling and threatening. You can build that relationship on a platform of trust, where everyone brings what they have to the table.”
ANC is being tested
On the ANC beyond 2019, he said the party was being tested.
“In the past it was easy, we had one common purpose, liberating this country and we worked for it and we have come to a time when some of us would rather be elsewhere than be in the trenches.
“When that happens, we might end up with a weaker ANC.”
Nene said he looked for someone who was selfless. “Someone who has the interests of South Africans at heart, someone who puts everything above him or herself because we have reached a stage where we focus on an individual.”
He said he has taught his kids that they were not entitled to anything.
“You are not going to get anything from me for free, we are up at 06:00 – we are working on the farm. They know that if they do not work, they do not have a stake, not even in the family trust.
“That is the kind of leadership that we need to start inculcating,” Nene said.