Mnangagwa thrusts Mthuli Ncube into hot seat, drops Cabinet veterans

Mnangagwa flanked by the outgoing Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa and newly appointed minister Mthuli Ncube at Davos in January 2018

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday named respected banker and academic Mthuli Ncube as Finance Minister and dropped several veterans from a 20-member Cabinet that bore more pleasant surprises than disappointments.

Mnangagwa, who assumed the presidency after former leader Robert Mugabe was ousted in a coup last November and barely extended his mandate in a disputed July 30 vote, has made economic revival the number priority for his government.

OUT…Chinamasa is expected to take a full-time role at ZANU-PF after being dropped from Cabinet

“We would want to grow, modernize and mechanize our economy. We believe in the next five years, we will be able to transform our people into middle income citizens,” Mnangagwa told reporters after the cabinet announcement.

Mnangagwa also retained former mining executive Winston Chitando to the mines ministry and named former Youth Ministry official, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu (36), industry minister. Former Olympic swimming gold medallist Kirsty Coventry was appointed Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation in perhaps the biggest pick.

Also out is former mines and home affairs minister Obert Mpofu

There were, however, no slots for long-serving Cabinet members, former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, Obert Mpofu, Supa Mandiwanzira, Simon Khaya Moyo and Christopher Mushowe.

Mnangagwa’s Cabinet has five women — Oppah Muchinguri (defence), Sithembiso Nyoni (women’s affairs), Sekai Nzenza (public service), Prisca Mupfumira (tourism) and Monica Mutsvangwa (information).

DIVING IN…new youth, sport, arts and recreation minister, Kirsty Coventry

Five of the nine provincial ministers named on Friday are also women.

But it is the appointment of Ncube, a political outsider with an impressive resume, that received the most attention.

Ncube, a holder of a Cambridge University PhD in Mathematical Finance, is a former chief economist and vice president of the African Development Bank. He is also a visiting professor at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Governance. The former Dean of the Faculty of Commerce Law and Management as well as Dean and Professor of Finance at Wits Business School in South Africa has also sat on that country’s Financial Services Board (FSB), which regulates non-bank financial institutions.

The economist and investment banker leaves his position with the Quantum Global Group in Switzerland, where he headed the private equity outfit’s research unit.

Sekai Nzenza, a writer and former governance specialist at World Vision International, is the new public service minister

He takes up the challenge to help Mnangagwa fix an economy afflicted by high unemployment, budget and trade deficits and a full-blown currency crisis, among a host of maladies.

In the days running up to his appointment, Ncube proffered public advice on how to tackle hot button issues such as Zimbabwe’s debt and currency crises, including a bold call for the scrapping of bond notes. Now, he has to take his own advice.

In an August 2 interview, Ncube expressed willingness to take up the challenge of helping rescue Zimbabwe’s economy.

“I’m receptive to that. I’m always happy to contribute to Zimbabwe, to make Zimbabwe better. This is my country of birth. I’m very happy to assist if called upon,” he said.

Time will tell whether he will succeed. The finance  job has proved to be a frustrating one for successive, well-meaning ministers, from Bernard Chidzero, Ariston Chambati, Herbert Murerwa to Simba Makoni, who famously quit the position after disagreements with Mugabe over the exchange rate policy.