South Africa

Analysis: Take the tip, Trevor!

By Ranjeni Munusamy 8 April 2013

Minister for Planning in the Presidency Trevor Manuel has received bouquets and brickbats for a speech he made to public servants last week in which he said it was not acceptable to continue to blame Apartheid for the failings of the state, adding that civil servants were not accountable to the ruling party but to all citizens. It is not the first time Manuel is rattling the cage. Perhaps now that he no longer serves in the leadership of the ANC, the respected and charismatic politician wants to finally break free. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

In December last year, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu pointed out something that has become increasingly obvious. At an intimate ceremony to honour the late ANC stalwart Kader Asmal, Tutu shared with the group what he had earlier said to Trevor Manuel, the minister for planning.

“I said to Trevor, ‘You don’t belong in this government’.”

Tutu has been cross with the ANC and Jacob Zuma’s government for some time now, but was particularly enraged when the state denied the Dalai Lama a visa to attend his 80th birthday celebrations. He compared the government to the Apartheid regime and said he would pray for the downfall of the ANC.

The unveiling of a bench and tree planting ceremony at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Asmal’s memory took place a few weeks ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung conference where Zuma was elected for a second term as ANC leader. It also took place in the wake of revelations of poor maths and literacy results in the Annual National Assessment and of the cost of renovations at state expense at Zuma’s Nkandla home.

“I’ve never been so close to tears. I can’t believe that this is true. That we are where we are. I mean, things are revealed and it’s as if someone said ‘And so what?’. We go on like nothing has happened. What the heck,” Tutu said according to an IOL report.

“What has happened to us? I mean, what has happened to us that we can just go on going on? Who in their right minds could have approved the expenditure of more than R200 million? And to do it in that area, where you have this nice place standing up and just around there the squalor and poverty. What is the matter with us?”

Tutu also raised concerns about the state of education, the 30% matric pass rate, the failure to deliver textbooks to pupils in Limpopo and test results of just 13% for Grade 9 maths.

Manuel was the only ANC heavyweight at the Asmal memorial so perhaps Tutu was just being expedient by saying he did not belong in a government where corruption and regression were tolerated. But Tutu, like many other people who know Manuel, is aware that the minister is a mismatch in the Zuma administration, and would not be there if it were up to his own free will.

A few days after Tutu made the comments, Manuel declined nomination to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) at the Mangaung conference. At the time, he said he was not angry with the ANC but believed the ANC’s values were being destroyed through competition for leadership positions. In an interview with City Press, he said he took the decision “as a matter of principle” and wanted to play a “different kind of role”.

Manuel has already tried to quit government twice – first when Thabo Mbeki was recalled in September 2008 and in 2011 when he was censured by the ANC for an attack on then government spokesman Jimmy Manyi. In an open letter, Manuel chastised Manyi for saying there was an “over-supply” of coloureds in Western Cape and called him a racist of the “worst order”. The ANC distanced itself from Manuel’s attack on Manyi, saying the minister had acted without the party’s blessing.

This clearly stung Manuel, but he stayed on in government, as he did in 2008 when he withdrew his letter of resignation after Mbeki’s recall and stayed on as finance minister in order to stabilise the markets.

His retention in Cabinet in 2009 was also aimed at quelling investor fears and retaining experience and talent in Zuma’s new executive. The National Planning Commission (NPC) seemed an ideal place for Manuel to vest that talent and his location in the presidency gave the impression that he is close to power and decision-making.

But while his work in the NPC has been widely applauded, except from sections of Cosatu, Manuel is clearly not influential in the Zuma administration and has been politically vulnerable. It was up to his close friend Asmal to defend him during the dispute with Manyi, not his organisation the ANC.

Asmal said at the time that government should choose which side it is on.

“Minister Manuel deserves the support and praise of all right-thinking South Africans. What drove him to respond in such clear and moving language was not only his belief in the core values of the African National Congress as expressed in the Freedom Charter, but also his adherence to the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in our Constitution.

“The choice facing us is very clear: do we stand behind the humane and generous values of Minister Manuel, or do we, by staying silent, lend our support to the mischievous and dangerous notions of Mr Manyi? Our government must also make this choice,” Asmal said.

Manuel’s impatience and discomfort is becoming more and more evident. In a government and Cabinet where most people survive through expressions of fierce loyalty to the ruling elite, concealing the dysfunction and crises, and chorusing popular opinion, Manuel seems to be battling to go with the flow.

In the City Press interview last December, apart from his disapproval of the way leadership battles are conducted in the ANC, he was also forthright in his criticism of Parliament, saying it was weak in its oversight of government policymaking and implementation.

“We need to develop nuance. I was saying to somebody the other day that we make policy as if we are on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where the loudest shouters get the biggest bids. It’s not a marketplace. Policymaking is more complex and nuanced,” Manuel said.

In his interview with Daily Maverick last month, Manuel was again candid, including on issues of police brutality which government has been reserved on, and went as far as criticising one of his Cabinet colleagues.   

“Sometimes party politics gets in the way of things, but I’m prepared to say this on record: When one of my colleagues [Lulu Xingwana] 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,” Manuel said.

While Manuel has always been a straight shooter, the diagnostic report of the National Development Plan (NDP), which he knows intimately, has empowered him with the knowledge of exactly what is wrong with South Africa. This is why he finds it so difficult not to articulate these issues, as he did in a speech at a Senior Management Service conference last week.

He said throughout the NDP, there were proposals for transforming the public service. “They include the need for accountability, for professionalism, for service to the citizenry, for being neutral in relation to party-political contestation, for public servants to be dynamic change agents seeking to change society while adhering to the law at all times, for public servants to be prudent with the use of public funds and to be responsible stewards of the public’s trust,” Manuel said.

But what really rocked the boat were his comments that Apartheid could no longer be blamed for current ills. Speaking of the “laxity” of government delivery, Manuel said: “Nineteen years into democracy, our government has run out of excuses. We cannot continue to blame Apartheid for our failings as a state. We cannot plead ignorance or inexperience. For almost two decades, the public has been patient in the face of mediocre services. The time for change, for a ruthless focus on implementation has come.”

This is in direct contrast to Zuma’s default position of blaming Apartheid for the state’s continuing failings.

Manuel has also courted controversy with his comments which effectively perforates the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment.

“I’d like to set the record straight here on this matter. Political appointments, per se, are not the problem. The problem is the blurred accountability that it brings. No matter how you were appointed, no matter who appointed you, you are not accountable to the ruling party. You are civil servants who are meant to serve all citizens irrespective of political persuasion. You are accountable to your political head and you remain accountable to the respective legislature. I repeat, you are not accountable to the ruling party, certainly not directly, and certainly not as civil servants,” Manuel said.

This has not gone down well with the ANC leadership and its alliance partners. The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said in a statement that Manuel was “dishonest” and “disingenuous”. “His statements are no different from those of the DA, with its ‘open-society vision’, and the De Klerk Foundation with its insistence that we need to serve the Constitution and not the other way round.”

Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola, by whose office the statement was issued, is a close ally of Zuma’s and since the Mangaung conference, serves on the ANC NEC.

“His [Manuel’s] decision to refuse the nomination to the ANC NEC was just a ploy to get out of the confines of the collective leadership and continue to act as an independent maverick,” Majola said.

Manuel’s decision not to serve on the NEC is probably an indication that he intends to withdraw completely from active politics, and will decline to serve in the Cabinet (if offered) after the 2014 election.

Like many senior ANC members and leaders who are disillusioned by the current leadership he is trapped by fierce loyalty to the organisation and therefore cannot consider a life in politics outside the ANC. Therefore, like many other temperate and respected voices in the ANC, he is destined to fade off the public scene where he will try and restrain himself from speaking out against the debauchery in the ANC and government.

In his tribute during a motion of condolences in the National Assembly after Asmal’s death in June 2011, Manuel spoke of how his old friend was tireless in the pursuit of justice and for human rights, even during his illness.

“Sometimes, it was very tough being his friend. He continued arguing then against the government of which I am part, albeit on a few issues that he considered fundamental.”

But the two had more in common than they had differences, and like Asmal, Manuel is having more and more trouble keeping silent. In the tribute to Asmal, Manuel quoted Shakespeare in Hamlet to depict the character of his beloved friend:

To thine own self be true,

And it must follow,

as the night the day,

that thou canst not then be false to any man.

Manuel could have been talking about himself.

Many South Africans still believe he would have made a good president. But, as has already been noted, these are the strange times for the ANC. The measurement of a leader is not how principled, or energetic, or inspirational he or she might be. The measurement instead is a choice to belong to a group in ascendancy, the earlier, the better. And in the process of transformation, the ANC became an organisation that was no longer a welcoming home to one Trevor Manuel. DM

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