President Jacob Zuma (left), who is also the president of the African National Congress, waves with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
President Jacob Zuma (left), who is also the president of the African National Congress, waves with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is defiant over the effect of his axing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, saying the reaction to the move was "exaggerated".

In an interview with eNCA on Sunday, Mr Zuma made his first public comment on the firing of Mr Nene, an action that resulted in the rand crashing and to which investors reacted negatively.

The economic crisis that ensued led to an unprecedented move by sections of South African business to appeal to senior leaders in the African National Congress (ANC) to reverse the decision.

The intervention led to Pravin Gordhan’s reappointment as finance minister, which went some way to ease the fallout.

Mr Nene was initially replaced with MP Desmond van Rooyen who, after Mr Gordhan’s appointment, was shifted to the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

After Mr Gordhan’s appointment, the ANC welcomed the decision, praising Mr Zuma’s "bold leadership" for listening to the views of the public, business and the party’s allies who had raised the alarm over the move.

Mr Zuma said that "people did not understand" why he had shifted Mr Nene.

"I think there was an exaggeration in terms of the reaction, there is no single person who can collapse a department, particularly a department like the Treasury," the president said. The move by Mr Zuma was seen as a consequence of Mr Nene holding the line against a South African Airways deal that would have had dire financial consequences for the airline and the fiscus.

There was also speculation that the move was linked to the influence of the controversial Gupta family. Mr Zuma sought to explain this in his interview with the broadcaster.

He told eNCA that there was a business relationship between his son, Duduzane, and the Gupta family. His son had worked for the family, but left and entered business on his own, forming partnerships with Gupta companies.

"Now precisely because he is Zuma and then Zuma (referring to himself) is corrupt, why?

"I don’t understand really why that should be a problem," the president said.

Mr Zuma was speaking after the ANC’s birthday celebrations in the North West on Saturday.

The party’s birthday statement was light on detail on the economy, but Mr Zuma in his address had emphasised the importance of greater co-operation between business and the government.

The private sector should also play a greater role in deracialising the economy and bringing about a "fundamental break with the ownership patterns of the past".

"It is imperative that the levels of co-operation between government and business be improved," he said.

Mr Zuma said that it was the responsibility of all leaders to ensure "proper fiscal management" and "prudent utilisation of public money".

"It is the responsibility for all of us to fight corruption, to expose corrupt people and to report them to the law-enforcement agencies. Silence is complicity and, therefore, we must act to eradicate the malaise," he said.

In the interview, Mr Zuma reiterated that the dire state of the South African economy was due to the global economic meltdown.