South Africa's new finance minister vows 'radical' change

AP News
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Posted: Apr 01, 2017 12:12 PM
South Africa's new finance minister vows 'radical' change

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's new finance minister said Saturday he is aware of the "climate of sharp disagreement and mutual suspicion" as his predecessor's firing deepens a split in the country's ruling party, and he promised to "radically transform" the economy to reach out to people long marginalized.

Malusi Gigaba briefed the media a day after President Jacob Zuma fired the widely respected Pravin Gordhan and set off an outcry by many in the ruling African National Congress and opposition parties.

The currency of one of Africa's biggest economies has slipped amid concerns about corruption at top levels of government. Many South Africans are now concerned that the economy could be downgraded to junk status by credit ratings agencies.

The new finance minister said he is committed to maintaining an investment-grade credit rating for South Africa and has been talking with ratings agencies.

He promised "radical economic transformation" for South Africa but added that it means more than empowering the country's black majority. It means spreading around wealth that has been concentrated in a small number of hands, he said.

Gigaba also said he was aware of the lack of trust and that he will not "betray our people" by allowing special interests to hurt the public good. His role, he said, is to "restore calm." The former home affairs minister and ex-head of the ruling party's youth league has little economic experience but has agreed to meet with Gordhan.

Fitch Ratings has predicted that the reshuffle will raise tensions within the ruling party and could weaken public finances and governance standards.

The firing of Gordhan, who was seen as a bulwark against perceived efforts to raid state coffers for personal gain, is another blow an economy that grew just 0.5 percent last year and has an unemployment rate of around 27 percent.

The reshuffle of 10 of the country's 35 ministers deepened shock in South Africa, whose pride in its democratic credentials, forged in the struggle against apartheid, has been diminished over the years by scandals around Zuma.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has criticized Gordhan's firing in a rare public rebuke of the president. On Saturday, top party official Zweli Mkhize said Zuma had not consulted with senior party leaders as usual before shaking up his Cabinet.

Also Saturday, Gordhan joined other high-profile ruling party activists and members as a memorial service for anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada turned into a protest against Zuma's actions. Gordhan called for "mass mobilization."

The ANC lost control of key metropolitan areas in local elections last year, partly because of dissatisfaction with Zuma. While the party's reputation as the main movement against apartheid has been tainted, it is still seen as the front-runner ahead of general elections in 2019.