South African finance minister denies he's a puppet of the scandal-engulfed president who appointed him

South African finance minister denies he is a puppet of scandal-engulfed president who appointed him

South Africa's recently installed finance minister vehemently pushed back against assertions that he is a puppet of scandal-wracked President Jacob Zuma.

Malusi Gigaba told CNBC on Friday that his loyalty lies with South African constitution, "regardless of who is president."

"I think that these attempts to castigate me, to frame me, paint me in a particular way are quite malicious," Gigaba said. "They've got absolutely nothing to do with the work that I do."

South Africa's currency sold off and its cost of borrowing spiked about three weeks ago after the country's president shocked markets by firing previous Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, a well-respected, stable official within an administration engulfed by allegations of corruption. Zuma has been embroiled in repeated scandals almost from the time he took office in 2009.

Zuma put loyalist Gigaba in Gordhan's place. When asked if he thinks something underhanded is going on in the government that led to his appointment, Gigaba said he doesn't know.

"I don't know. I'm not a fortune teller. I cannot go into conspiracy theories, that's not my responsibility. I've got a job to do and my job is not to look for bogeymen, for conspiracies," Gigaba said, adding that engaging in hearsay would be a "waste of time."

Credit downgrades, street protests

Moody's placed South Africa's credit rating on review for a downgrade this month, after two other major agencies already cut the country's rating. The top order of business for new Finance Minister Gigaba has been to reassure the ratings firms, which are concerned about South Africa's political stability and fiscal discipline.

Gigaba said, however, that he would not set a timeline on when he expects the country to see its investment grade rating restored.

"I'm just going to do what I need to do as the minister of finance to strengthen the South African economy, provide prudent fiscal management and show that investments grow in the country, that our economy grows and we're able to address issues of inclusive growth and bring our economy back to health," Gigaba said.

Malusi Gigaba, South Africa's finance minister, right, arrives to a Group of 20 (G-20) finance ministers and central bank governors meeting on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 21, 2017.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Zuma and his surprise termination of Gordhan have sharply divided the governing ANC party, of which Zuma is a long-standing member. Widespread, multi-racial protests have called for Zuma's resignation in recent months.

South Africa was once heralded as a leader among developing countries — in 2010, the year after Zuma took office, it became the "S" in "BRICS," joining Brazil, Russia, India and China in the elite acronym of emerging-market superstars. But in 2017, South Africa is saddled with 25 percent unemployment and is forecast to grow by less than 1 percent for the second consecutive year, according to the World Bank.