Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 25 March 2014

Dear free-spirited Trevor Manuel… Let’s talk frankly

You have accorded yourself well. In doing so, you also don't suffer fools gladly - you indeed don’t. Every single moment of your twenty years at the service of our movement and people, you have accorded yourself exceptionally well. Your way has been that of discipline and competence - a shining example of a model cadre that is sorely needed in our body politic. You have served various presidents without arrogance without judgment, while a man of your brains could have easily grown complacent. I argue that your track record speaks differently.

You accorded yourself well indeed, Minister. By breaking the back of political rhetoric, ensuring that on the economic front our country gets into gear with the rest of the world, ensuring that we emerge out of Apartheid-induced bankruptcy into a situation that created the necessary resources to increase progressive social spending. When all is said and done, you led our movement to see the light even in the midst of huge noise from the unions, who often failed to present any workable alternatives. You left them shouting and developed enough marrow in your backbone to implement – even when some of what you implemented was labelled disparagingly. You are still standing; some are still shouting. You didn’t suffer these fools gladly. The Bible describes this simply thus: “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise.”

The economic numbers do speak for themselves – from where you found them to where you left them. Before your time the country was in a deep red sea. At the end of your term as one of the best finance ministers we have ever had, you could afford to hand out the fruits of your toil. People like you must be celebrated. The twenty-year review released by government early this month proves that part of the good story South Africa is able to tell cannot be complete if your name is not a central part of it. Most of the story is about how resources were managed even better than some of the oldest democracies on the globe. When the whole world was breaking down under recession in 2008, we entered that whirlwind girded better by the earlier years of your excellent economic management. You, as the CFO of SA Inc., outshone some of the best finance managers on the JSE. And even there, as you engaged with captains of industry over many policy interventions, you did not suffer fools gladly.

Under your stewardship, dear Minister, SARS collected revenue more than any other year in our country’s history, making citizens take more responsibility to play their part in contributing to the fiscus, which in turn is able to take care of the most vulnerable in our society and ramp up the needed development of a fledging economy. Under your watch, the government has budgeted the biggest slice to education and health, and South Africa boasts current and future infrastructure, competing easily with the best nations in the world. You have accorded yourself exceptionally well, Minister. To crown it all, you gave us a successor who is equally competent and efficient – few can achieve such mastery.

But Minister, let’s talk frankly. Under your watch, corruption has also festered, and the way in which rampant corruption on tenders went out of control and fiscal control at municipal level saw its worst of times. I suppose this is the part where you admit to the worst of times amidst the best of times. Underhanded dealings to disburse the trillion rand budget you oversaw became the order of the day. This became so bad that your successor has now taken the desperate measure of centralising the tender system and appointing a so called Chief Procurement officer – an absolute disaster, if you ask me. But when it comes to tender corruption, you left him with a mess. Don’t get me wrong; I am sure you are squeaky clean personally – you represent so much that is absent in some amongst us, but goodness…! That can’t be said about some of your honourable colleagues, whose hands are often deep in the cookie jar. But I understand your resilience fully, for you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourself. The corruption that has become the music accompanying our good story of the daylight robbery of the public purse has not allowed you to let that define you.

Minister, you don’t suffer fools gladly. Your recent utterances about democracy waning on the altar of an unwarranted attacks on the Public Protector has earned you a new label as a free agent. I agree with you, because I think our democracy is threatened even more by the burden of theft of public resources. Such theft disables the state from spending money to improve the lives of our people. By extension, therefore, the weakening of an office that has stood out head and shoulders above all else in fighting corruption is the weakening of our democracy. It’s not a palatable truth indeed, but truth nevertheless. It’s not the sort of truth we want to hear on the eve of an election, but the truth has no timetable – like you, the truth is no respecter of fools.

Corinthians II Chapter XI says states so aptly: “After all, you think you are so wise, but enjoy putting up with fools.” You have been busy lately, taking on everyone from Jimmy Manyi to Songezo Mjongile. Methinks you should have called Manyi aside as someone who sits with you in Cabinet and whispered to him your displeasure. It looked clumsy, the two of your slinging it out over the coloured question. I can’t say I remember how the whole worst-order racists story ended, but it can’t have ended too well for the both of you. But when all is said and done, it is clear on this one you thought you were too wise to put up with Manyi, even with all his good intentions. Your attack on the secretary of the Western Cape ANC, on the other hand, seemed to have been well deserved. Too many are using Madiba’s name in vain. You had to step in while everyone was still on holiday to say sorry – not in my name! Big ups to you. But let’s talk frankly – Mjomgile is small fry on the misuse of Madiba’s name stakes. I look forward to your views on who else in the movement is shaming Madiba. I hope you will continue to speak out without fear.

There is not enough time to extol all your virtues, but you have accorded yourself well indeed. One of the things that is totally annoying in our movement is the sheep mentality of our leaders. By stating the hard truths, you are breaking that mould, largely because of your stomach to be angry with those that just don’t get it. Your remarks at the recent public sector summit, where you stated the obvious truth that we can’t keep blaming Apartheid for everything that is wrong about our civil service, sent the party hacks into a frenzy, rushing to put words in your mouth – but you were not fazed. The same way that you were not fazed when you spoke out against poor deployment of cadets with no clue of the portfolios they are often given by merely being cadres of our movement. These and many remarks and positions that you have taken through your excellent term of office makes you your own man – understanding the values of our founding fathers and distinguishing them with the lapses of our latter day bullies.

Dear Minister – you truly have done well. Your last assignment to lead the process of coming up with a one-stop plan for our future – the national development plan – must be your crowning glory. Your appointment to lead this process was Zuma’s masterstroke. To his credit indeed, he shielded you from the communists and workerist hounds who wanted to see you marginalised because they could not stand you – as you them. You went about your business and have produced a document that stands only second to the constitution in its amazing energy to unite all across society. Your step out of the mud and murk of politics with your head held high leaves us with a legacy that generations ahead will never forget. It does not matter how some may feign ignorance about how this project succeeded, because you were at the helm. It does not matter the new labels that now come your way because you don’t suffer fools gladly – the facts are stubborn and they remain – you have accorded yourself very well, Minister. And because you say so, South Africa has a good story to tell. The ANC must be grateful that the likes of you are cut from its cloth. The least we can do in the movement is to give you due respect.

Go on your way as a free spirit. You remain an inspiration for many, and you are the pride of our nation. May I wish you well in whatever your plan to do with your time. The country, and indeed the world, can use your skills further.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


While we have your attention...

An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.

Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.

Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.


SABC job cuts: Lest we forget – the ANC fiddled while Hlaudi was burning the national broadcaster

By Marianne Thamm

Whale stress levels dropped dramatically after 9/11 due to reduced ocean-borne shipping. This was measured by analysing said whales' droppings.