WASHINGTON: South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan is at the center of a political storm.
Four months ago he was brought back to head the finance ministry when his successor was abruptly fired by president Jacob Zuma and replaced with a little known lawmaker. That move shook investor confidence and sent the currency tumbling. Four days later business leaders and senior ruling party leaders forced Zuma to reverse course and return Gordhan to the position he held from 2009 to 2014.
In Washington for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Gordhan was relaxed and gave no indication of being a man under immense pressure. A longtime member of the ruling African National Congress, Gordhan is popular in the business community but opposed by loyalists to the embattled president. Enmeshed in numerous corruption scandals, there are increasing calls for Zuma to resign. He has three years remaining in his second five-year term as president.
In presentations to two think tanks, the Center for International and Strategic Studies and the Brookings Institution, Gordhan described South Africa’s political crisis as the normal workings of a young democracy. He suggested that the financing scandal about Zuma’s personal estate is being resolved. He said the country’s public protector–who ordered Zuma to pay back state funds– had done her job appropriately. He did not comment on the recent sudden departure from South Africa of two Indian born brothers, businessmen who have been close associates of Zuma.
Gordhan said South Africa wants foreign investment and a strengthened private sector. He expressed concern about a possible downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating to junk status.
In an interview, Gordhan emphasized that South Africa has a good story to tell. He emphasized the 16% increase in tourism last year.
Asked about the recent rebound in the rand exchange rate to pre-December crisis levels, Gordhan said there is still additional work to be done to restore confidence. The IMF projects that South Arica will grow by less than 1% this year.
Gordhan expressed frustration with global economic policy saying, “no one seems to know what to do to restore growth and investment.” He said South Africa like other emerging economies is a victim of the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis in Europe and America. “These problems,” he said, “came from your shores and were exported to us.”
Gordhan gave every indication that he is delighted to be back at his old post after two years of heading the provincial relations ministry.