Fundi Tshazibana. Picture: Supplied
Fundi Tshazibana. Picture: Supplied

Last year, Fundi Tshazibana became the first woman to join the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) since former governor Gill Marcus stepped down in 2014. Now, with nine interest rate decisions — including two cuts and one controversial hike — under her belt, she’s stepping into her new role as deputy governor of the Bank.

Dressed in a crisp black suit with a burnt orange shirt that matches governor Lesetja Kganyago’s tie, Tshazibana is soft-spoken but forthright. In the few seconds it takes to ask her a question, she’s already calculated the best way to answer it and pre-empted what’s coming next.

The added responsibilities of her promotion from governor’s adviser to deputy governor include watching over the financial markets department (which in turn includes keeping the National Treasury accountable) and managing SA’s reserves. She is keen to get more women on the MPC — particularly with two vacant positions on the committee.

"Pushing for another female member is something I feel strongly about, it’s something that the governor feels strongly about and it’s something that all the MPC members would like to see a change in," she says.

While Tshazibana is the only woman in robust debates with Kganyago, deputy governors Kuben Naidoo and Rashad Cassim and fellow MPC member Chris Loewald, her career trajectory has prepared her for it.

"I’ve largely grown up in all-male environments," she says. "For me it’s not something new so I’ve got used to fighting my way to get my voice heard."

She’s certainly equipped for the job. She’s worked at the National Energy Regulator of SA on policy options for restructuring the electricity industry, and spent 15 years at the Treasury getting a firm grasp of fiscal policy and three years at the International Monetary Fund as lead analyst of financial sectors covering 23 Sub-Saharan countries.

Last year, Tshazibana had a baptism of fire. She joined the Bank in February and officially joined the MPC in March, when the Bank cut the repo rate by 25 basis points for the second time in five years. Since then, the Bank has hiked rates once as a pre-emptive move to potential inflation risks and cut rates once. The hike split the committee and triggered an enormous backlash, with some analysts calling it a mistake as the inflation outlook remained at the midpoint of the Bank’s 3%-6% target band.

"Accountability is a big part of what policymakers have had to do," she says.

This, of course, comes as the Bank and the MPC’s decisions have come under more scrutiny than ever.

Tshazibana and the four others on the committee face making tough calls in the context of heavily constrained consumers, a weak economy and a heated debate around the Bank’s mandate, its ownership and its independence.

"I’ve enjoyed the accountability process of the monetary policy formulation because policy processes have to be transparent. The public has to understand what we are doing and why we take the decisions that we take," she says.

The ANC and its alliance partners have long argued that the Bank should also include economic growth and employment levels as policy goals, as targeting inflation tends to lead to higher interest rates. This — while the debate over the Bank’s private shareholders rages — has cast a shadow over monetary policy decisions.

But following Kganyago’s lead, Tshazibana is ready to fight to defend the Bank’s mandate of protecting the value of the currency — and isn’t shy of any showdowns that could be headed her way.

"When you take the job, it is an expectation that you’re ready to go to war," Tshazibana says.

"The minute you accept that role you’re basically saying that you will do what is prescribed to you by law. There is no option of just ducking and diving. If there is an issue you’re scared to defend, it means you’re no longer fulfilling this role that you’ve agreed to as a deputy governor."