The firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene last year was a dark moment in South Africa’s democracy, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an interview with Gauteng radio station Power FM.
Speaking late on Wednesday evening, Ramaphosa opened up on a range of topics from the drafting of South Africa’s constitution in 1996 to alleged state capture.
The topic of discussion also turned to Nenegate or 9/12, which on December 9 2015 sparked a selloff in equities and a tumble in the rand.
President Jacob Zuma, who replaced Nene with backbencher Des van Rooyen at the time, was then forced by the ANC to rehire Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.
Power FM asked Ramaphosa if he was “puzzled” by President Jacob Zuma’s firing of Nene.
“Yes, I mean the way I think it was done could have been handled a lot better,” Ramaphosa answered.
Power FM then asked Ramaphosa whether he was angry about the move, and about reports that he threatened to quit amid the controversy.
Ramaphosa however denied he threatened to resign but said that members of his party “reacted in different ways”.
“I know you want a scoop… but they reacted in a number of ways. But that was a real dark moment in the history of our democracy,” said Ramaphosa.
In the interview, Ramaphosa further said that 9/12 sparked a better working relationship between government and business.
“We suddenly all realised that what really was necessary was that business and government must not talk past each other,” said Ramaphosa.
“We must cooperate and we must start dealing with issues that are of great importance to the people of our country and to that end, the president called a big business working group, but it also included black business, it also included the trade unions and, out of that, came what I think are really historic milestones.
“In that we were able to form, to establish a fund to promote small and medium businesses. R1.5bn has now been put on the table and much more will be added later, and that is going to be available to small businesses and it is being driven by business and obviously with the cooperation of government,” he added.
After several years in business, Ramaphosa re-entered politics after being elected ANC deputy president in December 2012. He subsequently disinvested from Shanduka Group after he also became the country’s deputy president.
He told Power FM that while he spent years in business, this does not mean he represents the voice of business in government.
“A number of people, after I was appointed, had the mistaken belief or notion that he comes from business, and when he goes into government he will essentially be representing the voice of business,” said Ramaphosa.
“That was a fallacy, because first and foremost I’m a political animal and I’m also loyal to my political beliefs and my political party, so that is what I have to articulate.
“But having said that, I have seen a great improvement in the relationship between government and business,” he said.
Ramaphosa, along with departing African Union chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is seen as a forerunner in the race for the ANC’s top post in December 2017.
Trade federation Cosatu has thrown its weight behind Ramaphosa to become the next president of the country.