YOU’RE MY MAN: President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with newly appointed Finance Minister Desmond van Rooyen, after he was sworn in at the Union Buildings on Thursday. Picture: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
YOU’RE MY MAN: President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with Desmond van Rooyen, after he was sworn as finance minister at the Union Buildings in December. Picture: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma says Desmond van Rooyen was the most "highly qualified" finance minister he has ever appointed.

Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the presidential press corps on Monday, Mr Zuma defended his decision to appoint Mr van Rooyen in December, saying people had assumed he just "woke up one day" and decided.

Mr Zuma’s axing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and appointment of Mr Van Rooyen, a little known MP, caused unprecedented backlash. The reaction from the markets and the effect on the currency resulted in Mr Zuma’s reappointing Pravin Gordhan to the post he held from 2009 to 2014, after a high-level intervention by business and politicians.

Mr Zuma on Monday described his appointment of Mr Van Rooyen, who is now co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister, as "that thing that caused such havoc". He said Mr Van Rooyen, also a former MK operative and a soldier, was his "comrade" and was "more qualified" than any other minister he had appointed to the post. Mr Zuma said no one had taken the time to understand his decision.

During the meeting, the Presidency and Mr Zuma said the launch of the press corps was to help senior journalists and editors better understand such decisions.

Turning to Mr Gordhan’s upcoming budget address, Mr Zuma said it was taking place under difficult circumstances. The budget was a product of "very good" discussions taking place in the government and that further cost-cutting in addition to those announced in his state of the nation address would be revealed by Mr Gordhan.

He emphasised the importance of all players in the economy participating to turn around the situation. He reiterated that companies should not resort to retrenchments during difficult periods and that labour should be mindful of high wage demands. Both business and labour should be aware of the impact of their actions on the economy and should instead work together to save jobs, he said.

"We need to cushion blows to the economy that (are) quite intense," said Mr Zuma.

He touched on a number of other issues that were dear to him, including land, and whether it was correct for land claims to be admissible only from 1913,when the dispossession of land was legislated. He said land was at the root of the massive challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment SA faced. "You can make the rand as strong as you want, it won’t help (with resolving the land issue)," he said.

Mr Zuma held a meeting with black professionals last week. He told journalists on Monday that the intelligentsia in SA had a much greater role to play and should not be "putting down" the country.

"Intelligentsia can’t put down its own country, it’s not right," he said.