On Sunday President Jacob Zuma announced that Nhlanhla Nene had been appointed as South Africa new finance minister - replacing Pravin Gordhan who was shifted across to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
Nene was widely described in the local and foreign press as South Africa's "first black finance minister." For instance The New Age reported that with Nene's promotion "South Africa would have its first black finance minister" while EWN reported that "South Africa finally has its first black finance minister". The Guardian stated that Zuma's cabinet "includes South Africa's first black minister of finance." AFP meanwhile reported that "President Jacob Zuma on Sunday tapped junior minister Nhlanhla Nene to become the country's first black finance minister."
The Mail & Guardian's Verashni Pillay wrote a feature article titled "Appointing SA's first black finance minister matters - here's why." Even Wikipedia described Nene as "the first black Minister of Finance of South Africa."
This must all have come as something of a surprise to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel who, until Sunday, had been commonly described - by the same media - as South Africa's "first black finance minister" after his appointment to the position in 1996.
The Mail & Guardian, of March 29 1996, reported on his appointment "South Africa got its first black finance minister late on Thursday-- in the person of Trade and Industry Minister Trevor Manuel." The newspaper commented on Manuel's first budget in 1997 "SO, the first black finance minister presented his first Budget and the sky did not fall in."
In a 2001 article for the Guardian on then President Thabo Mbeki Hugo Young described Manuel as "the first black finance minister" and wrote of how, early on in his term of office, the market had freaked out at being described, by Manuel, as "amorphous". Young quoted Mbeki as recalling, "Big panic, lots of trouble, rand depreciating. I think they responded like that because Trevor was the first black finance minister. They thought this confirmed their view that these people will not be able to manage."
In her biography of Manuel Pippa Green describes him too as South Africa's "first black finance minister."
It is now evident, however, that in the minds of the pencil-wielding press, Manuel was merely serving in an acting, temporary or interim capacity as South Africa's "first black finance minister" until a "real" black could be appointed.
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