Durban - The son of a nurse and school principal, Nhlanhla Nene has always had his eye on the money and even owned a tuck shop during his teenage years.
Newly appointed as minister of finance, Nene comes from the rural village of Ntunjambili near the Tugela River and Ntunjambili Mountain near Kranskop.
The village now has water and lights, but the streets remain dusty and children still walk long distances to school, just as the minister did as a boy.
A political activist, even at a young age, Nene was expelled from Georgetown High School in Pietermaritzburg before completing his matric in 1979.
His former classmate at Kranskop High School, Vusi Mbatha, described Nene as a good student who came from a stable home and always stood up for what he believed in.
“He is a very bright and humble man, but he is no pushover.
“I think that’s what led him to politics, because times were very hard in the 1970s,” said Mbatha.
Nene’s younger brother, Sandile, said growing up in a family of five boys meant all of them had to learn how to cook and do other household chores.
He said his brother could make “a mean curry” that would have most asking for seconds.
His sentiments were echoed by the minister’s wife, Lisa, who told The Mercury that her husband made the effort to cook for the family whenever he came home, which is in the Kranskop CBD.
“My husband is very much a family man and his dedication to us has never faltered, even when he became a member of Parliament in 1999,” said Lisa.
The couple met in 1979 and have been married for 29 years. They have three children.
The day that President Jacob Zuma announced Nene as the new finance minister – May 25 – was also the couple’s wedding anniversary.
Lisa said Nene’s new appointment came as a shock and surprise to the family.
“We’re very happy for him, but it’s also a scary journey for all of us because his portfolio is so sensitive.
However, my husband is a man of God and He is with him always,” said Lisa.
The retired teacher said she had faith that he would do well handling the country’s finances as he had some experience after serving as a deputy finance minister since 2008.
Lisa said her husband tried to be home at least every second weekend, but she did not know whether that would change with his new job.
“We know he’s going to face new challenges and that might take most of his time. But he’s someone who takes his responsibilities very seriously and is very hands-on, so that’s going to come in handy,” said Lisa.
When Nene is home, he spends his time helping around his wife’s farm – either feeding the chickens or tending the vegetables.
Lisa has never joined her husband in Cape Town for longer than a week and said it was important to the couple that one of them stayed at home with the children.
“Kranskop is home to him and most of the people around here have known him from a young age.
“We still go to the same church we went to as a young couple and he sometimes preaches as the chairman of the parish,” she said with a smile.
Lisa refused to be drawn on the fake Twitter account that had been set up after her husband’s appointment was announced.
“My children were talking about it the other day and they were making a joke about how they doubted their father even knew how to use Twitter.
“Social networks aren’t his thing. When he wants to say something, he calls or sends an e-mail.”
- The Mercury