Introducing Malusi Gigaba
Question marks remain about his capability to serve as finance minister, but there are also a number of reasons to back the man who could one day be president.
theappointment of Malusi Knowledge Gigaba as South Africa’s new finance minister at the end of March was met with shock. The rand plummeted and the country’s investment rating was downgraded to junk status. Since the announcement, Gigaba has been putting out fires across the globe, from Washington to Durban and with an upcoming investor roadshow planned for Singapore. To date he has also incurred the continued wrath of social media revolutionaries who have criticised his choice of academic Chris Malikane as one of his economic advisers.
Malikane is known, among other things, for his strong views on nationalisation – not a view the international investment community is particularly fond of.
In response to the uproar, Gigaba has stated that he as minister is someone who makes up his own mind.
Gigaba is also smart and may in fact be the most highly educated minister of finance since the ANC came into power in 1994. Around that time, Gigaba received a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in geography, and later a master’s degree in social policy – about land invasions – from the University of Durban-Westville. He is currently studying towards a doctorate. His predecessors did not have the same level of academic credentials.
At 46 years of age, Gigaba is also the youngest person to become finance minister.
In 2012, the late journalist Mandy Rossouw described him as follows in her book Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers: “Gigaba is the antithesis of youth leaders such as Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula. If the young leaders were in a primary school class, Malema and Mbalula would be the ones in the back of the classroom throwing paper balls and using pages from their textbooks to roll tobacco. Gigaba, on the other hand, would be the goody-two-shoes sitting in front in a pristine white shirt, with all his homework done. He wouldn’t be very popular with the other kids but the teachers would love him.”
Speaking of love, if he has one real Achilles heel it may be his stormy personal life. He divorced first wife Nokuthaba following several public fallouts. She was also the root cause of an investigation against him, after Gigaba used a departmental credit card to buy her flowers worth R1 020. He paid the money back.
Following the divorce, Nokuthaba hung onto the surname, even registering as Mrs Gigaba on Instagram. This led to a big tiff when Gigaba married Norma Mngoma in 2014. Minister of finance Norma had to register a new username – Mrs Gigabyte. Recently another storm raged with Norma Gigaba and another ex-girlfriend trading very public blows on social media. Opposition MPs have also not held back in their criticism, with DA MP David Maynier stating that Gigaba’s appointment has been “a disaster”. The reality is, Gigaba’s appointment – and the impact on the economy – was out of his control. The reshuffle that led to his appointment was a decision by President Jacob Zuma; not something Gigaba had much say in. One question to ask critics is: if Zuma considered Gordhan’s tenure no longer tenable – if not Gigaba, then who should have replaced Gordhan? He may well have been the best candidate to take the job. However, professionally he does not come without baggage either. At the department of home affairs he had lots of bad press around an ill-fated visa regulations debacle that affected tourist numbers. He can also not be too proud of the state of many state-owned enterprises when he left the department of public enterprises. A last concern is suggested links between Gigaba and the Gupta family. He was asked at one of his first media conferences as finance minister to clarify the relationship, but he declined to answer and the matter has not been put to bed. A major challenge will be the outflow of senior staff from National Treasury following the removal of Gordhan. To date the director-general, career civil servant Lungisa Fuzile, and his deputy have both decided to leave Treasury. They may not be the last ones to go and replacing them may be challenging. There is no doubt Gigaba could be a great minister of finance. He is shrewd and likeable. In addition, he already dresses better than most Wall Street bankers and has years of political experience. This means he also has the backing of Zuma. In fact, one would struggle to find many Gigaba detractors within the ANC on all sides of the Zuma spectrum. If Gigaba plays his cards right, it cannot be discounted that down the line – in an election cycle or two – the new finance minister stands a real chance of being elected to the big chair in the president’s office. If that does happen, the experience at Treasury may be invaluable.
Gigaba is also smart and may in fact be the most highly educated minister of finance since the ANC came into power in 1994.