HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday appointed former banker Mthuli Ncube as finance minister and kept Winston Chitando in charge of mining, placing two technocrats at the helm of plans to rescue the country’s battered economy.
The 75-year-old leader is under pressure to rebuild an economy hit by lack of foreign investment, unemployment above 80 percent and acute dollar shortages that have hobbled some imports.
Mnangagwa won a disputed vote on July 30, the first election in the southern African nation since Robert Mugabe was removed by the army last November after nearly four decades in power.
In appointing Ncube, Mnangagwa wants to show the international community that he is giving priority to the economy and moving away from the Mugabe years where important cabinet posts were given on patronage lines.
“It sounds very encouraging especially on the choice of finance minister. That’s a very good foundation for the country’s economic recovery prospects,” said John Robertson, a Harare-based independent economist.
“I hope the president will permit those ministers to exercise their skills without interference.”
Ncube, 55, is a former chief economist and vice president at the African Development Bank (AfDB) and was also a lecturer in finance at the London School of Economics and Wits Business School in South Africa.
He founded Zimbabwe’s Barbican Bank and asset management company, which were, however, put into administration by the central bank in 2005 after only two years of operations. The bank’s license was later canceled.
Ncube will be tasked with crafting an economic recovery program as well as coming up with strategy to pay off Zimbabwe’s $1.8 billion arrears to the World Bank and AfDB.
Chitando, a former managing director and chairman at the Impala Platinum and Sibanye-Stillwater joint venture platinum miner Mimosa, was favorite to be retained at the mines ministry, to which he was first appointed in Nov. 2017.
Mining generates more than half of Zimbabwe’s foreign export earnings and Mnangagwa has said the sector, which is attracting investors in lithium mining, will anchor future economic growth.
Mnangagwa also appointed ZANU-PF national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri as Defence Minister, taking away a key security portfolio from Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the retired general who led the coup against Mugabe.
Zimbabwean swimming Olympic gold medalist Kirsty Coventry was a surprise pick for the youth and sports ministry in a cabinet that did not include any opposition officials.
Mnangagwa appointed eight new faces to his cabinet but there was no place for long serving ministers Patrick Chinamasa, Obert Mpofu, David Parirenyatwa and Simon Moyo.
“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 his chief secretary announced the cabinet list.
Mnangagwa had earlier received support from former President Robert Mugabe who said he now accepted him as Zimbabwe’s legitimate leader after initially accusing him of leading a “disgraceful” de facto coup that ended his near four-decades rule last year.
On the eve of the July 30 vote, Mugabe, 94, said he would vote for the opposition to remove Mnangagwa’s “military government”, expressing bitterness toward his one-time allies in the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean