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By Tiisetso Motsoeneng
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Sim Tshabalala has become the first black person to lead Africa's largest bank by assets without sharing power, after his co-CEO stood down, South Africa's Standard Bank said on Tuesday.
Tshabalala, a 49-year old company veteran who describes himself as "a Zulu boy from Soweto", joins only a handful of black executives at the helm of one of the country's top-40 blue-chip companies.
He is the second black person to run one of the top five South African banks after Sizwe Nxasana took the reins for five years in 2009 at rival FirstRand in a sector often criticised by politicians for a lack of diversity more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
In an unusual statement from the government on company executive appointments, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba called the appointment an affirmation of the capacity of black professionals.
"Along with the work that is currently ongoing in parliament to address the slow pace of transformation in the financial sector, Mr Tshabalala's appointment comes as a step in the right direction," Gigaba said.
Tshabalala, a lawyer, was appointed alongside Ben Kruger in 2013 to sharpen the company's Africa focus and clean up a costly blunder by then chief executive Jacko Maree to try to turn Standard Bank into a major emerging markets lender.
"Good momentum has been achieved in the implementation of the group's refreshed strategy."
In their joint 4 1/2-year tenure, Standard Bank has added branches across Africa while selling assets in Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Argentina under a revamped strategy that scaled back its ambitions outside the continent.
"The BMF trusts that this announcement will mark an end to the joint CEO appointments phenomena that we have come to see," the group said.
BMF generally criticises the appointment of two bosses, saying it is often done when "the most deserving candidate is a black person." It also says it stifles accountability and adds costs to a company payroll.
Synthetics fuels giant Sasol is another high profile company with two bosses. The company is led by Bongani Nqwababa and Stephen Cornell.
(Additional reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by Mark Potter, Greg Mahlich)