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Maverick interview: Trevor Manuel

South Africa

South Africa

Maverick interview: Trevor Manuel

Trevor Manuel

Interviewing politicians can be difficult, because they hardly ever give a straight answer, and Minister for Planning in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, is a consummate politician. But in a wide-ranging interview, he spoke as openly as possible, among others, about how he has won over sceptics over the years, first as minister of finance and now as planning minister, about his displeasure at ministers whose utterances go against the Constitution, his anger at the policemen who killed a Mozambican man in Daveyton last week, his resignation in support of Thabo Mbeki and how his current job is very different from his previous one as minister of finance. He remained hesitant to speak about his future, however. By RYLAND FISHER.

We interviewed Manuel in his office at Parliament on Friday morning, a few hours after he had hosted a report-back meeting in the Rocklands Civic Centre in Mitchells Plain where he spoke about the need to rekindle the activism that was prevalent in the 1980s.

Below is an edited extract of the interview:

RF: When you were appointed minister in charge of planning in President Zuma’s Cabinet, there were obviously some sceptics who did not quite understand what it is that you had to do. Now that the National Development Plan has taken centre stage in our political life and, indeed, our economy, do you feel vindicated?

TM: I don’t actually set out with that objective. I think that too frequently we start out not being given the benefit of the doubt. What it entails is just working hard to get things right and if, in the process, you disprove the sceptics, that’s okay, but you start out to get things right.

In the last few years of Madiba, in spite of the fact that many people told him he was crazy to appoint me minister of finance, I did not set out to prove the sceptics wrong, but I hoped that through my efforts I would be able to win the trust of Madiba and the organisation that gave me the opportunity to do so. What is important is that one is able to take decisions and learn in the process.

I understand very clearly that if the only thing you want to do in a position of leadership is to please people, the quality of your leadership is going to be severely compromised. If you try and do things that go against the grain of your belief system, then you will be unhappy and feel compromised.

If you want to deal with these issues, you have to ask questions constantly about what your reference points are, about what is your value system. Some people use the term “compass”: so where are you heading and why?

The ability to think past ideological rigidity is also important.

If I take these points and try and use them to answer the question about the National Development Plan, it makes for an interesting read.

The commission [National Planning Commission] itself is an interesting construct. I’ll be bold enough to say that my initial thought was to have the commission structured more along the lines of the Indian Planning Commission which has about half a dozen ministers on it. It is chaired by the prime minister and often the president or the deputy president could chair it and I would do the spade work inside. I lost that battle, and it was not about wanting to be a prime minister. It was about wanting to follow a construct whose relationship to implementation would be understood.

The second thing about the plan and the commission is that its composition actually lives out !ke e: ǀxarra ǁke (Khoisan for “diverse people unite”). It is quite a diverse group of people and that’s a real strength.

When we approached people to participate, on the recommendation of the president, some of them said: “Why are you approaching me? I’m not even an active member of the ANC.” However, everyone accepted. There were some people who felt rejected by the ANC. In putting this together, a lot of these people got a new lease on life and have given the commission a new lease on life. It has been very important for that reason.

The third issue is that, in many ways, when, 13 months into the process, the diagnostic report was released, it was a coming out for the commission. If people thought it was a lapdog, then the release of the diagnostic report – which deals with issues such as the unevenness of the public service, the breakdown of unity, the need to tackle corruption, etc. – spoke volumes about the way so many South Africans feel.

But it also spoke to the fact that the president, in inviting the commission to take a long-term, independent view, was actually not curtailing that. There was no censorship about the views of the commission. He allowed it to happen and has built on the momentum created by the National Planning Commission. It is going to be quite important because it was a commission started on his watch and it has been allowed to generate the unity and momentum. It is something that he wants to see through and that is very positive.

One of the biggest successes of the NDP so far, even before you have started implementation, is that you have created a document that has been endorsed by just about everyone in society. Has this been a difficult process and how did you achieve this almost universal endorsement?

There are particular strengths in the nation that we need to continue to give effect to. On many of the issues, we need to understand that our Constitution binds us in a particular way. Our Constitution is fresh and must be refreshed, and that must be continuous.

Let me cite an example, and sometimes party politics gets in the way of things, but I’m prepared to say this on record: When one of my colleagues makes some outrageous statement about Calvinist Afrikaner men who own their wives and then feel they have the right to kill them, I don’t look at party politics, I look at the Constitution and I say “Madam, you are outside of the founding provisions of our Constitution. You are outside of the preamble to the Constitution. You can’t make these outlandish statements. It’s wrong.”

The fact that both of us happen to be members of the ANC does not make it correct. It’s wrong.

Or the fact that the policemen who dragged the poor Mozambican man to his death behind police van. I’ll tell you what outrages me about it. Sky and CNN are showing it, but it does not feature prominently in our local newspapers. It upsets me when we as a nation do not express outrage.

I’m speaking as a minister and I’m telling you that what outrages me is that they did not dismiss these policemen on the turn. There’s no need to consult the Labour Relations Act. There’s prima facie evidence. You dismiss them on the turn, and you shift the onus onto them. You charge them for the death of this poor man.

If we behave in this way, then we move as a nation because our value system is held in tact. And that is the message of the plan.

When we started our work, we went to the Constitution and said that we need to deal with certain issues, such as poverty and inequality. We said that we could eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.

These things are contained in our Constitution, but if you had asked me the same question 30 years ago when we launched the UDF, these would have been the things that drove me. There is no difference because that is the foundation I’d like to believe that I stand on.

Is reducing poverty using a poverty line, or whatever method we use, adequate? No, it’s not adequate. But I know that the inequality issue happens in a variety of different ways. Inequality happens in society when I, as a minister, earn a hell of a lot more than a farm labourer. That’s once aspect of inequality. It is going to be there, it’s a feature of the world. It’s a feature of our remuneration system.

But that’s the other side of inequality that we must talk about differently.

By virtue of a range of issues, I moved out of the townships and my children went to former model C schools and I know that they got an exceedingly good education.

Then I look at what is happening in township and rural schools, and what is entrenched is the inequality of opportunity, partly because these institutions are poorly managed. That has nothing to do with income; it has a lot to do with attitude.

In Mitchells Plain, for example, why does one school have a 94% pass rate and another school barely scrape 60? I look at it in the context of the annual national assessments and what’s happening in primary schools.

Some people in Atlantis had asked me to work with them on something and I got from the Department of Education, with a little bit of effort, the Annual National Assessments by school, so I could see what was happening in grades 3, 6 and 9, in languages and maths. I took the numbers and I plotted them, so that you have bar charts. I sat with a group of people, I covered the names of the schools and I asked them to tell me where they think the results are and in every case they were right.

People who are active in the community know exactly which schools are performing and which are underperforming.

If we don’t deal with the underperforming schools, we are entrenching inequality, because we can’t ship them out and we can’t say to parents who are poor you must send your children to other schools because these schools don’t work for you.

These problems, as well as the problems in healthcare, do not affect you and me. We don’t go through the pain and trauma of what our families go through.

Our problem is that the people rendering those services at public facilities are unionised workers who don’t see themselves as development workers serving the nation and who see that they can deal with the ravages of inequality differently. It freaks me out when unions don’t step up to the plate and say: Not in our name.

Why aren’t we hearing Popcru already on those policemen at Daveyton. They should be saying not in our name, not in our uniform. We must dismiss them and have them come back and make representation rather than suspend them on full pay.

Unless we change the attitude and understand our responsibilities as a broad cadre of leadership differently, the NDP is not going to find resonance in implementation.

The National Development Plan and the processes leading up to it involved quite a few people, not only the experts on the commission but also support staff. But in the eyes of the public, you are the one person most associated with the plan. Would you see this as your legacy project?

I’ve never looked at life like that. I believe that if you try to build a legacy, you will fail. I look at the question differently. I have a rare opportunity to serve my people in a particularly high-profile way, and can I be equal to the task? If that is how we deal with issues, I think it’s okay.

It’s not about me, it’s not about legacy. Unfortunately, it is just the way the Act is written. I’ve always taken the view, certainly in the previous jobs that I have had in government, that I must make an effort to find people who are smarter than me, and if that works, the team looks good. Sometimes, because you’re the minister, you get up in public, you get up in Parliament and say the things that you have to say, and the glow falls on you, but it is always important to know that there is a big team behind you.

When I started in the ANC in economic planning, I knew no economics, and through my life in the Department of Trade & Industry and eventually in the Treasury, I knew that I knew very little economics. I learnt as I went along, but I knew that if I set this thing up where people can come with the numbers, and I ask the questions based on life experience and understanding and broad political objectives, then it will work.

I don’t need politicians [on the commission], but I need people who understand the technical issues in a way that I don’t. It is not about my legacy.

In an interesting kind of way, I have a maverick view of our Constitution. That maverick view says the Constitution is a social compact because it meets all the criteria about who gives up what, and the constitutional negotiations were about a compact.

The Constitutional Court, the pinnacle of our judicial system, must be able to answer whether a decision is in violation of the compact. That’s what they must do. Whatever words they use, jurisprudence and so on, that’s what they must answer.

They must be able to answer to Irene Grootboom [housing rights activist] if her constitutional rights were violated by the way in which she has been treated.

Parliament as the legislature, as the oversight body, must be able to answer repeatedly whether the executive is doing the most it can to live out that compact. It does not work as well as the court, which makes the court stand out.

In thinking about the Constitution, those were the checks and balances. When Parliament does not work, there is a disproportionate load on what the Constitution calls Chapter 9 institutions, the Auditor-General, the Public Protector, the Human Rights Commission, and so on.

If you ask me about the NDP, I relate it to the Constitution, which creates a promise from our generation to our children.

What does it mean when we say in the Preamble to the Constitution that we remember the injustices of the past? What does it mean when we say we respect those who have worked to build our country? What does it mean when, in the Founding Provisions, we talk about the commitment to non-racialism and non-sexism or about the commitment to a decent quality of life for our people?

How does the Bill of Rights support that? And how do we create a framework where the decisions we take support those rights?

Do you think enough is being done to popularise the Constitution, particularly among the youth?

No, I don’t. I think we are failing. When the Constitution was first adopted, I had copies of the Constitution in all 11 official languages. Not that I could read them, but it was a very useful reminder that if the Constitution provides for these languages, to have it available in these languages. I’ve got three Constitutions now and all three are in English.

We are not popularising the Constitution. One of the things that I am hoping that we will do is to get youngsters to articulate the values of our Constitution. One of the things that I am hoping we will be able to start with this year is to get every school child to recite the Preamble to the Constitution in at least two languages.

This is important is because in many nations, the sense of nation-building is constructed through a pledge of allegiance. The recitation of the oath of allegiance in the United States in schools is an important part of what they do. The Chinese, the Brazilians and the Germans do the same. Part of why the Germans do it is because they must ensure that, after Nazism, successive generations imbibe a different value system.

Yesterday [last Thursday] there was the launch of the “Say No to Rape” campaign and there is a pledge. The first item in the pledge is that “I pledge to uphold the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa”. It is a nice pledge, but it helps to know what the Constitution is founded on. There is also of course the Bill of Responsibility. It started with a lot of energy in schools but it is not generating as much energy as one would hope.

But we have to make these interventions, because part of generating definition is to make sure that we take those steps against forgetting. As Milan Kundera writes, it’s a struggle of memory against forgetting.

We must put in a special effort to popularise our Constitution, because what constructs us as a nation is tenuous. In many parts of the world it is tenuous. The issue of race and language and class, there are all kinds of divides. Sometimes what looks to the outside as quite homogeneous is not.

I look at a country like Jordan, a small country where people dress the same, they look the same, they speak Arabic, and a very high percentage of them are Muslim. It looks very homogenous.

But when I read up on what happened in the recent elections, I began to understand that there are fissures in that society between the people who come from Bedouin tradition and people who are deemed to have been newly settled, in the past 50 years, the displaced Palestinians, and these thing have not settled.

Part of the way in which our Constitution was written was to try and be mindful of all of these issues and I think that we have a huge responsibility.

At this moment, our Constitution is still a teenager. It is only 17 years old, but this is the time that we have to ensure that its values are imbibed for good reason. A generation is 25 years and, if you leave it, the next generation will be completely oblivious of what its origins are.

One of the biggest premises of the National Development Plan is its insistence on what some people call active citizenship. What can I, as Joe Citizen, do to make the plan a reality and how do we, government, business, labour and civil society, get our citizenry to a level where the majority of people in this country will become active citizens?

I have a particular view and history of what that activity is. I don’t want to run the risk of confusing the things in my head with the reality of people’s lives. But when we organised, from the 70s into the 80s, we were able to draw links in people’s lives. What started out as an expression of frustration, unhappiness about what was happening in the education system, gave rise to the Committee of 81, which gave rise to parents’ support for their children, which gave rise to a better ability to deal with support for workers elsewhere, be this the red meat boycott or other stuff. This created a better basis for civic organisations, youth organisations, women’s organisations. This, in turn, developed into a confluence in the United Democratic Front. None of this started out as a big political campaign. It was about people coming together about the issues that matter.

There is a Brazilian legal philosopher, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, who taught at Harvard for a long time, who became a member of the Lula Cabinet and actually went back to teach at Harvard. His job in the Lula Cabinet was to help Cabinet think about the future without being a planning commission. One of the things that Unger deals with is a set of proposals aimed at energising democracy.

It is a very basic but, in my view, interesting set of proposals. The greatest thing about our democracy is the way in which our transition happened, the way in which our Constitution is crafted. But, actually, it will die on its feet if we don’t give it energy.

Philosophically, the way I look at our Constitution and our constitutional values is to give it energy, and you can breathe life into it by citizens who ask how the rights they are entitled to find resonance? How do citizens compel government to respond to the issues that matter to them? Where does the rubber hit the road? Active citizenry is about that.

When you have teachers who are not in class on time teaching, parents must be active and hold the school accountable. When the parents of a 13- or 14-year-old Grade 6 child don’t get the results of the Annual Assessment tests that the child has written, they need to ask for them.

The school needs to account for why the results are the way they are and the comparisons with that.

If we deal with these kinds of issues, then we actually set the bar higher as we go along.

Communities need to say: “Hold on, we need to find out why the health care provision at our clinic is as poor as it is.”

Every second Wednesday of the month, my mother goes to the day hospital to get her tablets. The doctor sees her, asks whether she is okay, takes her blood pressure and tests her blood-sugar level. Then he says, “Okay, we will just continue with the script.” Seeing the doctor is a five-minute exercise, waiting in the queue at the dispensary might take six hours, I don’t know why.

When she gets to the front of the queue eventually, she is told they don’t have her tablets. There is something wrong in the equation.

When I go to any supermarket and I want a particular brand of baked beans because that’s where I normally get that brand of baked beans, I get very upset when they don’t have it. I might be able to go across the road to the other supermarket.

But if it is a public service and these tablets that I’m supposed to get once a month are not there, and nobody can explain to me why, then I have a right as a citizen to ask. If the community then establishes oversight over that health facility, then they are demonstrating the leadership and the active citizenship that can raise the quality of the services they are entitled to.

For me, the introduction of active citizenship is not the introduction of a new kind of rocket science. It brings in the stuff I understand, which I know works, and which my mother knows work.

If you have that, you can establish a better equilibrium in democracy.

Part of the meeting [in Mitchells Plain] last night was interesting. Jeremiah [Thuynsma], as the PR councillor is not a directly-elected ward councillor and I am not a directly-elected constituency MP, yet we went to the community to report back.

The funny thing is that the DA, who don’t report back to the community, want to hang onto our coattails. In the end, Charlotte Williams, who was an NP councillor and deputy mayor at one point, said that the strangest thing about this meeting is that the ward councillors are not here. Yes, there is one sitting but he is not reporting back. At least, Jeremiah is reporting back.

The Municipal Systems Act requires councillors to do four report-backs a year. If you do that, there is a channel of communication for people, as much as people complained about water and other issues last night, as much as the housing thing is unresolved. The law requires that.

If people are active and organised, then they get better government as a consequence.

The Municipal Systems Act also says that municipalities must draft an integrated development plan in consultation with residents. It makes for high levels of participation in our democracy. The councillor would go with council officials, they would listen to people and they would write on these flipcharts. But then they disappear and they don’t come back and say: remember, we were here two months ago and you raised the following questions with us. Well, we have gone back to fight and one of the 10 issues you raised, we can get one this year. Don’t be angry with me. We’ll keep the list alive. We’ll keep pushing. I’m your servant. Then you’ve closed the loop.

What happens is that sometimes people raise issues and they think that now that they’ve raised it, it is going to happen. The councillor does not come back and the people think they have eaten the money and that’s when you get what purports to be service delivery protests.

There are a number of little things that we can do to close the loop, to communicate differently with people to ensure that we can have this equilibrium and energise our democracy. We don’t do those kinds of things. We do it when people are angry.

What are the next steps for the National Development Plan?

There are a range of issues. If we can work at this active citizenship, then the outcomes will improve, but if you have issues like school governance, community oversight of clinics, community policing forums, and those kinds of things, then the outcomes improve.

If you look at the Rocklands meeting, and it is not a microcosm for the country, but people talked about crime and drug abuse, the drug dealers and the difference between the dealers and the addicts. All of these things are important measures, because community safety has to be a benchmark that we set for ourselves. You are not going to do it if the police are not involved, and if they are not accountable to that local community.

When people are active and voiced – and I know that’s a lousy word, voiced – you are in a better position to drive these issues.

The second point relates to focusing on the engine room. The NDP is a plan for all of South Africa but the engine room is still the state at large.

If we don’t focus on a range of issues relating to the public service, we are not going to be able to deal with these issues.

Let’s not debate about whether public servants should be allowed to do business with government. Let’s just accept it is wrong and ensure that our legislation is correct and let’s take on a big campaign about the accountability of public servants.

Let’s look at the skills set that we have available and retrain people as an ongoing project.

Let’s ensure that there are consequences when people do wrong things, when the police cause the death of a human being, when somebody gives an instruction to very determined, poor traffic officer recruits to run in the sun without water and eight of them die, when the teacher does not teach.

You can’t run a society without consequences and as government we can’t expect ordinary people to know that there are consequences when we are not prepared to introduce these measures.

Part of what we also have to do is to ensure that we can design accountability frameworks.

For example, the water in the town of Carolina is very bad and people get sick, they get cholera and stuff from the water. People look for the minister of water affairs, who has no responsibility. Then they look for the mayor and the mayor asks where the town engineer is, and the town engineer says he does not have a budget. Nobody quite knows who’s responsible for what and ensuring that we know who is responsible for what is another part of strengthening the engine room.

Sitting in the meeting last night, these things were very clear. There was Anthony George in his wheelchair. He’s frustrated because the lift at Mitchells Plain station does not work. He says people like him, in wheelchairs, have to suffer the indignity of not being able to get to the train platform, and have to beg people to carry their wheelchair.

The lift is there but it does not work. Why does nobody fix it? It’s a basic question. Get out there, make the call and fix the lift. It’s the ability to deal with these kinds of things. I’m hoping that by the weekend, we can get the lift fixed, so that Anthony will know that by raising the issue there is a response to what is a basic issue. But I need to find Lucky Montana [CEO of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa)] and say to him, can you instruct somebody to go and fix that lift. Prasa must fix the bloody lift. It’s as basic as that.

What I’m saying is that you must fix the engine room, so that you can know whether it is spluttering or humming.

In order to get a better sense of what is possible, we need to look at the issues of the state and the competence of people who work in the state. Part of what we need to do is to use data. This is one of the things that we don’t want to do as a country.

The Stats SA results of 2011 give you data about all municipalities. You can see who has access to water, who has fridges in their homes, etc. The data is available, but how do we get public servants to use it differently?

The information is available but not utilised. We need to use data for decision-making differently. We must ensure that we align our implementation plans with the data.

Every department has a set of measurable objectives in line with the Estimate of National Expenditure document that came out with the budget. We must hold them to account. It is public information.

South Africans are very good at making plans. How do we ensure that this one will succeed where others have failed? What happens if the NDP fails?

I don’t know that everything has failed. We kind of lose passion and enthusiasm. Our emphasis shifts. Sometimes we become the victims of our own propaganda. We had an intense debate in the ANC in 96/97. I thought it was resolved at the conference at Mafikeng, where we took a resolution saying that the policy of the ANC remains the Reconstruction and Development Plan [RDP], and Gear [the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme] is a means to attain this. Gear was never meant to replace the RDP. It dealt with one issue which was macro-economic stabilisation.

Part of what we needed to do was to create a policy room, which could curtail certain kinds of expenditures so that we could drive policy differently. It was easier for people to say that they wanted to spend, spend and spend. It is not their problem if the country ended up in structural adjustment at the IMF.

They said we should not do Gear. They gave it nicknames, such as 96 Class project, and we become victims of our own propaganda. But if you look at the big changes in public services made available because of the way we were able to get a handle on the big spending patterns, then you will begin to understand just what the strength of that was. But there was a discontinuity in the way it was communicated.

The emphasis has shifted a little. If your question is what happens if the NDP fails, I don’t see failure quite like that. I don’t think that there absolutes about this plan. There are issues.

If the pass rate improves and we get school governing bodies in place, and there is better teaching of maths and science at schools, and school leavers are better able to be absorbed into the economy, more easily find further opportunities for study, then the plan works.

If we close the gap between public and private health care because public health facilities operate better, before we actually put in a lot of money into the NHI or something like that, then the plan works.

If we get a measure like consciousness of self within society, within community, and there is more freedom for your wife and daughters to walk around at night without fear, then the plan succeeds.

I don’t look at it as quite the absolutes. There are a number of indicators in it. You’ve got to build a road from one point to another. If the road is not completed, then it’s a breakdown. We focus more on what hangs together in society. A lot of the ideas in the plan are around those kinds of issues. If you get that working, then the plan is working, because it then creates the space to do some of the infrastructure and economic growth stuff.

But if we don’t at least double the size of our economy, then there won’t be labour absorption and then the big risk that afflicts our country is that tens of millions of unemployed and frustrated young people will burn the country down.

But you don’t do it to avoid that, you do it because it is the correct thing to do.

You have played many roles in society, as an anti-Apartheid activist, an ANC leader and as a cabinet minister, among many others. Watching you at the Rocklands Civic last night, I got a sense that one of the roles you enjoy most is interacting with grassroots people, effectively going back to your activist days. Would you say this is correct? Do you find some comfort in being among what some call ordinary people?

It is an essential part of what we have to do. One of the frustrations is that I can’t do enough of it. At the same time, I have the responsibility of executive decision-making. I have the responsibility to persuade even society’s intelligentsia of what we are doing. It means writing and speaking, not instead of, but also because of.

It is not just going from one community meeting to the next. It is bringing all these things together. But it is good to engage with community members, to listen to them, be informed by them, to be able to persuade them.

The other thing that we don’t do enough of is to nurture a leadership. When we were young activists, there was nobody else to look up to really and the state was the enemy. Now that we have all the resources at our disposal, we are not doing enough to nurture a new pool of talent, to come through fast enough, to take responsibility. In an ideal world I would like to sit in that audience in Rocklands Civic and watch local leadership engage with the community and know that the fruits of struggle are finding resonance in the way our democracy is energetic, and our public representatives are accountable.

When you declined nomination for the ANC national executive committee [NEC] in December, there was, predictably, a lot of speculation about your future. Is it possible to put that speculation to rest once and for all? What does the future hold for Trevor Manuel?

I’m not in that zone. But there are some issues that I want to put to rest. I am not angry with the ANC. I am still an ANC activist and I believe it is possible to be an ANC activist without being on the NEC.

I also have a maverick view of leadership renewal. People should step aside and allow others to step in and not have their enthusiasm dimmed because the only thing they lived for was to occupy a position.

I’m hoping that by being able to do the stuff in communities, I can demonstrate to my contemporaries that perhaps it is possible to do this kind of thing. I should not only be able to do this as a minister but in a variety of ways.

There is no anger, no frustration, no making a point.

I’m also not trying to play a game that says beg me. When people ask me in the ANC, I say that you will find my intent articulated to young South Africans at the Mail & Guardian event last year. There were many people in the ANC who tried to persuade me not to step down from the NEC, but they were not successful. It wasn’t a statement of anger. It was a rational thing.

I’ve always believed that the organisation is bigger than an individual.

Somebody said to me that I like people to beg me. They said look at what happened in September 2008 when Thabo Mbeki left, when the NEC decided to recall Thabo.

I said that I serve at the pleasure of the president, and now the president’s pleasure has been recalled, the principal thing for me to do was to resign along with the president who appointed me.

By Saturday morning, Thabo Mbeki had my letter of resignation. That same morning, at an NEC meeting, I discussed this with Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe. I told them that I had resigned and they said they disagreed with me.

I explained why I did it and I said, if you ask me whether I would be prepared to continue, the answer is yes. But in doing so, I did not want to be part of a faction and I did not want to limit the hand of Kgalema Motlanthe when he became president.

That matter was resolved on the Saturday. I left on the Saturday for the UN and then this thing leaked to the press. I was not being begged. The principle was articulated. It’s not about begging. Sometimes organisations and even government must go through renewal. Like our Constitution must be renewed.

And the future?

We are not there yet. We are not there. Part of this rare privilege I have is that I’m actually doing a few things internationally at the moment, learning as I go along. I’m co-chair of a Global Oceans Commission, which has its inaugural meeting in Cape Town later this month. I’m reviewing an annual report of the World Bank called Doing Business, taking the judges and the trade unions into global consultations because a lot of people think that the report by the World Bank is misplaced.

I’m battling with issues of knowledge. It’s a rare privilege. My job at the moment is not a pure ministerial job. It is very different from what I did in my previous life. I can tell you now that the choice that Pravin Gordhan has is whether to table the budget next year on February 28, 21 or 14 and then, whatever is decided, he has to work backwards from that.

Every day of his life as a minister is accounted for. If you look at what Pravin’s diary looks like for the rest of the year, you will see that there is no wriggle-room for him. It’s going to be a bloody difficult year. I’m in a very different space. I’ve got a very rare privilege doing what I’m doing at the moment.

(At this point, 90 minutes after having asked the first question, the interview was terminated. There were at least 10 more questions to ask but Trevor Manuel was gone, leaving no one any the wiser about his plans for the future.) DM


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