The fall – and rise – of a political heavyweight in South Africa

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The Independent Online

What a difference a week has made for South African MP Nhlanhla Nene: last week a YouTube figure of fun after his chair collapsed under him in a live television interview, yesterday promoted to Deputy Finance Minister.

The collapsible MP has spent the week fending off jokes about him being a political heavyweight and suggestions that he change his job title from chair of portfolio finance committee.

The sudden notoriety came after an interview with South African television was cut short by Mr Nene's fall. First he is seen to wince as the chair cracks audibly but soldiers on until in mid-answer the chair gives way completely, sending him crashing to the floor. A clip of the mishap was posted online and watched by more than 500,000 viewers. The presenter manages to keep a stony face to camera while her interviewee lies behind the desk in the wreckage of the chair.

Mr Nene has since been forced to answer questions about his weight, and said: "I know I am heavy but I sit on these chairs all the time. It can't be my weight." Yesterday Mr Nene said that he was "humbled"; by the ministerial appointment, and not by the fall. It confirms his status as heir-apparent to Trevor Manuel, South Africa's internationally respected Finance Minister. Mr Manuel's resignation in the wake of president Thabo Mbeki's departure caused serious concern on the markets.

The promotion of the accident-prone MP from KwaZulu Natal appeared also to confirm his close links to the ANC leader Jacob Zuma. The rift in the ruling party deepens, with his predecessor, Jabu Moleket, re-signing in sympathy with Mr Mbeki.