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South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has “strongly reprimanded” his Finance Minister Tito Mboweni for his weekend tweets, which sharply criticised President Edgar Lungu for abruptly firing the governor of the central bank, Denny Kalyalya.

Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank, on the weekend, in a now-deleted tweet twitted: “Presidents in Africa must stop this nonsense of waking up in the morning and fire a Central Bank Governor! You cannot do that. This is not some fiefdoms of yours! Your personal property?! No!!

“The President of Zambia must give us the reasons why he dismissed The Governor or else hell is on his way. I will mobilize!”

In response, the government’s chief spokesperson, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya called Mboweni’s comments “immature and improper”, and said her government would take up the issue diplomatically.

Mboweni had responded defiantly by tweeting: “I stand by my statement. Central Bank independence is key. Not negotiable. Let all central bankers speak out!”

Later, he tweeted: “ You know. Trouble makers are game-changers! I am glad that I am a TROUBLE MAKER!”

But Zambia evidently did deliver an official complaint and Ramaphosa was clearly not amused. First thing on Monday morning, Ramaphosa’s office issued a statement saying that the president had strongly reprimanded Mboweni.

“In one of his tweets, Minister Mboweni is promising to mobilise if not given reasons why the Central Governor has been fired by President Lungu,” Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson Tyrone Seale said in the statement on Monday, 24 August.

“President Ramaphosa wishes to assure the government and people of the Republic of Zambia that the unfortunate remarks do not reflect the views of the South African Government and its people.

“The issue is being addressed to ensure that such an incident does not occur again. South Africa and Zambia enjoy strong historical relations dating back to the days of the struggle against apartheid. South Africa remains committed to maintaining the deep and solid bonds of friendship between the peoples of South Africa and Zambia.”

Mboweni retweeted Ramaphosa’s statement after deleting his earlier tweets criticising Lungu.

Zambians believe President Lungu fired Kalyalya because Kalyalya was trying to rein in inflation and was also frank about the weakness of the economy.

He replaced him with Christopher Mvunga, a deputy secretary to the Cabinet who is likely to be far less independent, said one Twitter user.

This change was “like replacing an experienced heart surgeon with a mechanic, in the middle of heart surgery,” Zambia’s main opposition leader, Hakainda Hichilema, who leads the United Party for National Development (UPND), said on Twitter.

Sunday Chanda, media director of the ruling Patriotic Front party suggested Kalyalya had been fired because he deliberately tried to sabotage the economy by creating a liquidity problem to advantage Hichilema – his cousin.

Lungu is up for reelection in 2021 and clearly, the weak economy is counting against him.

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