In an embarrassing reversal, South African president Jacob Zuma replaced his controversial choice for new finance minister David van Rooyen on Sunday (Dec. 13), barely a week after appointing him, and instead tapped Pravin Gordhan (pictured above), the current minister of cooperative governance, to take over.
Unlike van Rooyen, Gordhan comes to the position with significant experience—he served as finance chief from 2009 to 2014. He was succeeded by Nhlanhla Nene, who was abruptly fired last week in favor of the inexperienced van Rooyen. Van Rooyen will now swap with Gordhan, becoming minister of cooperative governance.
“It’s absolutely shambolic,” John Ashbourne, Africa economist at London-based Capital Economics, tells Quartz. “On the plus side, Gordhan is known as a safe pair of hands, and this will be comforting. But on the other, this second reshuffle in five days will really confirm the impression that president Zuma has blundered into a self-inflicted crisis.”
Many cabinet members said they were neither aware of nor consulted about the moves. Meanwhile, the President spent the weekend denying that his decisions had anything to do with Nene’s strident criticism of the head of the nearly bankrupt South African Airlines, Dudu Myeni, with whom the President was rumored to have had an affair and a love child. Zuma has denied a romantic relationship with Myeni (“Rumours about a romance and a child are baseless and are designed to cast aspersions on the president,” his office said in a statement). But whether Zuma is literally or only figuratively in bed with her, Myeni appears to be incompetent at best, corrupt at worse.
The recent events suggest that the President is far from being the corruption-fighter South Africa needs, and that he is not his managing his responsibilities well. And Zuma has a year left to go, amid a commodities slump and (as you can see) serious economic problems. All of that may spell trouble for South Africa.