David vs an eco­nomic Go­liath

New fi­nance min­is­ter’s friends and for­mer col­leagues say he is punch­ing above his weight as fi­nance min­is­ter dur­ing these trou­bled times

CityPress - - News - ATHANDIWE SABA athandiwe.saba@city­press.co.za

New Fi­nance Min­is­ter David “Des” van Rooyen’s old com­rades are happy about his new ap­point­ment, but few be­lieve he has the abil­ity to run South Africa’s pub­lic purse. A for­mer col­league of Van Rooyen, DA coun­cil­lor Blackie Swart – a coun­cil mem­ber who has sat on the fi­nance com­mit­tee of the Mer­a­fong mu­nic­i­pal­ity for the past 15 years – said the for­mer mayor was a hard worker.

“But you don’t learn how to run a coun­try’s fi­nances based on mu­nic­i­pal ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

Like many oth­ers who have worked with Van Rooyen, Swart had good things to say about his for­mer col­league, but was wor­ried about the new fi­nance min­is­ter’s lack of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I have stud­ied fi­nance and worked in the in­dus­try for years be­fore I came to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity,” he said.

“As a min­is­ter of fi­nance, he will have to deal with a to­tally dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment. This is the worst pos­si­ble time he could have come into the role with the econ­omy as it is.”

But Swart is not the only one con­cerned about South Africa’s econ­omy.

One of Van Rooyen’s close po­lit­i­cal al­lies, who asked not to be named be­cause he was not au­tho­rised to speak for the ANC, said he was elated for his friend, but he had some con­cerns.

“As a home­boy and a for­mer col­league, I am happy for him. Com­ing from these dusty streets and mak­ing it up the ranks like he did is amaz­ing. It would be great to walk into his of­fice and say, ‘Hey Des,’” said the man.

But he does not think Van Rooyen is up to his new job. “Now, on a na­tional level, he is punch­ing well above his weight. Any other po­si­tion would have been all right, but this one is not for him.

“This was a bad de­ci­sion by our lead­er­ship. Des does not have the ca­pac­ity,” he said.

The man rea­soned that the po­si­tion needed his home­boy to be groomed and given the time to learn the ropes.

“He is go­ing to need to rep­re­sent the coun­try on an in­ter­na­tional stage where we are talk­ing about fi­nance, the econ­omy, ex­change rates, bonds and stuff. They are set­ting him up for fail­ure.”

Old neigh­bours who grew up with Van Rooyen said he was a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist to­wards the end of the strug­gle in the 1980s and went into ex­ile to join Umkhonto weSizwe at the end of that decade.

When he re­turned in the early 1990s, he joined the SA Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF).

He then left the SANDF and, in 2000, re­turned to North West where he be­came a coun­cil­lor for a ward in Khut­song.

An am­bi­tious man, he made it on to the coun­cil as a mem­ber of the may­oral com­mit­tee (MMC) for pub­lic safety.

Former mayor Ellen Ma­bille, who chose him for the po­si­tion, said her choice was based on Van Rooyen’s ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic safety.

“He came from the army, so it made sense to give him that po­si­tion,” she said.

Ma­bille only held of­fice for three years be­fore she was ousted and re­placed by Van Rooyen af­ter the ANC in Gaut­eng sacked her.

Iron­i­cally, it was sim­i­lar to what has hap­pened in him re­plac­ing Nh­lanhla Nene as fi­nance min­is­ter.

The ANC said it ap­pointed Van Rooyen to “strengthen gov­er­nance”. When Zuma ap­pointed him this week, he said Van Rooyen would “strengthen the path and con­tinue to sup­port all ef­forts aimed at im­prov­ing the lives of or­di­nary South Africans”.

Ma­bille re­fused to com­ment on the cir­cum­stances of her dis­missal, say­ing she could not speak about in­ter­nal party de­ci­sions.

“I’ve known Des for too long. I first met him as a young, rad­i­cal youth leader who was pas­sion­ate about the strug­gle in 1988/89.

“He was full of life and, when I had the op­por­tu­nity to make use of his skills, I brought him in as an MMC in 2000.”

The last time she saw him was at a fu­neral a few years ago, where she learnt that he had been moved to Par­lia­ment.

“It’s the pres­i­dent’s pre­rog­a­tive to ap­point any­one he pleases. As the com­mu­nity of Khut­song, we will pray for Des and his new role,” she said.

Mean­while, on the other side of Khut­song, an­other po­lit­i­cal ally and ward coun­cil­lor, who asked not to be named, said Van Rooyen was go­ing to be a fall guy. “If [ANC sec­re­tary­gen­eral Gwede] Man­tashe won’t speak, who are we to say any­thing against this de­ci­sion?

“I don’t want to come across as jeal­ous of Des, but this is not the kind of role you wake up into.”

The coun­cil­lor warned that Van Rooyen might be used as he had been dur­ing the failed at­tempt to in­clude Mer­a­fong in North West.

“When they needed Mer­a­fong to be moved into North West, he was called in and Ellen was re­moved. Then, when the ANC saw that the peo­ple would not take it ly­ing down, Des was the fall guy. I’m wor­ried for him. They have thrown him into the deep end, but I don’t have any bad things to say about him,” he said.

Van Rooyen’s abrupt de­par­ture as Mer­a­fong mayor came in 2008 af­ter fu­ri­ous com­mu­nity mem­bers burnt down his fam­ily home.

The Au­di­tor-Gen­eral at the time, Ter­ence Nombe­mbe, was not happy with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s fi­nan­cial per­for­mance and gave it qual­i­fied au­dit opin­ions dur­ing Van Rooyen’s ten­ure.

Ac­cord­ing to Mer­a­fong’s 2008/09 an­nual re­port, Van Rooyen did not de­clare his busi­ness in­ter­ests and Nombe­mbe picked up unau­tho­rised ex­pen­di­ture of just more than R14 mil­lion. Swart said no real rea­son had been given for Van Rooyen’s de­par­ture. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s debt lev­els were at R95 mil­lion in 2000. By the time Van Rooyen left in 2008, the debt had bal­looned to R340 mil­lion.

“His last recorded meet­ing was in Oc­to­ber 2008. When I checked the Novem­ber min­utes, there was al­ready an act­ing ex­ec­u­tive mayor,” said Swart.

“But there was never a rea­son given for why he left. We know by now that such things are usu­ally kept re­ally quiet.”

Is David van Rooyen ca­pa­ble of be­ing a good fi­nance min­is­ter?

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PHOTO: DEN­VOR DE WEE

EMPTY SPACE

A res­i­dent walks past the spot where David van Rooyen’s fam­ily home once stood in Khut­song, North West

David ‘Des’ van Rooyen

Blackie Swart

Ellen Ma­bille

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