20 April 2024 | 08:15 AM

Behind Nene’s firing: Meet the new boss, so different from the old one

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Key Takeaways

His business record makes him look like someone willing to hustle for a living, though it never came to that. His track record in Parliament did not leave much of a mark. But his academic career apparently equipped him for high office.

New Finance Minister David van Rooyen, known as Des, is different things to different people – but none of those things are reminiscent of his predecessors, whom the markets came to trust and respect.

On Thursday, the University of London confirmed that he was awarded a master of science in finance (economic policy) at the end of 2013, though it would not release any other information.

The current cost of the programme Van Rooyen completed is £10 080, which translated into slightly more than R230 000 at the rate of exchange shortly after his appointment was announced.

The university argues that the results are worth it. “As a graduate of this programme you will be well prepared for senior positions in governments, central banks, other public organisations, international institutions and consultancy,” the brochure for the programme says.

“I don’t see him as a man who will stand up to the president”

Narend Singh, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s finance spokesperson, studied alongside Van Rooyen as they completed distance-learning assignments. “I know him personally … We used to talk about our assignments,” Singh said. “He has been focusing on improving his academic communications – to the extent that he has the gravitas to assume this important post. I can’t comment.”

What was he like as a person?

“He is a gentleman,” said Singh.

Others in Parliament knew less about the new minister whose running of the treasury they will now be overseeing.

Brandon Topham, the Democratic Alliance’s deputy finance spokesperson and a relative newcomer to the national assembly finance committee, said he had served with Van Rooyen for a few months.

“He is a pleasant man. He speaks the fiscal lingo but he is most definitely an ANC cadre. I don’t see him as a man who will stand up to the president.”

Topham referred to Van Rooyen as “Van Vuuren” several times.

Anton Alberts, the Freedom Front Plus’s finance and trade spokesperson, said: “I have never met him. I have never seen him … or perhaps I have, but he has not made an impression on me. He might not be a bad guy, but his track record doesn’t fill one with confidence. I think he is going to be a yes man,” Alberts said.

He was forced out as mayor for showing a complete lack of leadership and total arrogance”

Several ANC MPs expressed similar sentiments, although some thought that if Van Rooyen was willing to implement Zuma’s instructions it would be a good thing.

None would speak on the record.

In Merafong, the sprawling municipality he led as mayor during violent protests, starting in 2006, against incorporation into the North West, one resident remembers

Van Rooyen as a target of outrage and protest. “They despised him so [much] that they fire-bombed his house and chased him and his family out of town. He was forced out as mayor for showing a complete lack of leadership and total arrogance.”

His business dealings in that part of the world, which includes the mining town of Carltonville and its neighbouring township of Khutsong, make Van Rooyen seem more like a small-town hustler than an impresario on the national black economic empowerment stage.

He tried his hand at business as a sideline to politics, but none of it appears to have come to much.

Most recently, in May last year, Van Rooyen and his friend Andrew Kupukane registered Phambiri Services. Kupukane, a builder from Khutsong, said on Thursday that the company has not started trading because Van Rooyen has not had time “due to his involvement in government”. The intention was to buy and sell houses.

“Good guy, hands-on”

Kupukane’s LinkedIn profile boasts a separate company of his that built the standard fare of municipal infrastructure in the area: pavements, speed bumps, “councillor’s house” and “topping of Khutsong community hall”. That company was registered in 2010, after Van Rooyen was mayor.

Kupukane said Van Rooyen was a “good guy, hands-on”, and that he would do well as finance minister. “We’ll make it.”

In November 2013, Van Rooyen took directorships with two other companies in the area, Sukuta Enterprise and Late Bloomer Enterprise. With him in both companies is Paulo de Gouveia, Carlton-ville’s Mr Everything.

He owns the local Spar, some bottle stores and service stations, and other property.

De Gouveia said he knew Van Rooyen mostly socially and from after his time as mayor. They had “watched cricket once together and had a braai once together, and one or two meetings”.

He knew Van Rooyen as a “good, honest man” but did not know his background well enough to comment on his prospects as finance minister.

“Peoplecentric, passionate, humble” and a “family man”

Both companies, he said, had not come to much. The intention was to chase municipal tenders – catering and office equipment, a recycling project on a landfill site he [De Gouveia] owned, and an attempt to sell coal to Eskom during the time of load-shedding.

They hooked up in business only after Van Rooyen’s departure as mayor and only in the recycling project related to the local municipality, he said, because he did not want “fingers pointing” over corruption.

Another partner in Sukuta Enterprise is Sydney Mdluli, who represented Swaziland in athletics in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. Mdluli, now group sports officer of Sibanye Gold, also said their company “never took off”. He described Van Rooyen as “peoplecentric”, “passionate”, “humble” and a “family man”. Earlier Van Rooyen companies are Walinzi Protection Services, a Khutsong-based close corporation he joined in 1999, and Muziovukile Mining Projects, a Carltonville close corporation he joined in 2007. Both have been deregistered.

Van Rooyen has a few hundred shares in Welkom Yizani, the News24 empowerment vehicle, Asonge, an MTN empowerment share scheme financed by the National Empowerment Fund, and what appears to be Khulisa, a Telkom empowerment share scheme.

He owns a house in Suideroord, Jo’burg. Van Rooyen and his wife Bernice bought it for R880 000 in 2011, almost fully bonded.

Van Rooyen on Thursday said he would only engage with the media once he had spoken to his new staff at Treasury.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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