MUST READ: Trevor Manuel blasts Zuma’s finmin blunder, asks tough questions

In January, Trevor Manuel turns 60. That puts him at an age where he is thinking about the country his grandchildren will inherit. A stage of life where many dispense with niceties of political correctness to speak out on things that are wrong. And right now, to Manuel’s mind, there is a lot that is going very wrong in his beloved country. For one thing, only lip service is paid to the National Development Plan, SA’s economic blueprint he spent five years guiding to conception. For another, Manuel is furious at what happened earlier this month in the Finance Ministry, a portfolio he spent more than a decade nurturing into a global position of esteem. Manuel penned this open letter for City Press – republished here with the newspaper’s permission – in reaction to “reckless statements” from President Jacob Zuma’s acolyte, small business minister Lindiwe Zulu. In reality, he is blowing the whistle on Zuma’s puppeteers, perhaps unwittingly supporting similar concerns expressed last week by EFF’s deputy president Floyd Shivambu. Given Manuel’s lifelong service to the ANC, his approach may prove even more pivotal than Shivambu’s disclosures in derailing Zuma’s “network of patronage”. He asks the key questions about why Zuma fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and sweeps away Zuma’s belated justification that Nene was proposed for a position which, Manuel says, is “15%” of the responsibility of the one he held. Equally pointed is his anger at previously invisible backbencher David van Rooyen‘s appointment, and how the shock new incumbent was able to show up at National Treasury barely a day after his appointment with two hand-picked “advisors”. It will be interesting to discover exactly who those “advisors” are; who championed their appointment; and, as Manuel asks, who approved putting them on the payroll. A must read. – Alec Hogg

By Trevor Manuel*

Dear Minister Lindiwe Zulu,

You may have observed that I refrained from commenting on the events of the past week. I have been contacted by at least 15 journalists since last Thursday, but opted to remain above the fray.

It is not that I’ve not had opinions, but I chose to remain silent. However, your comments, as quoted in the Mail & Guardian and confirmed on Radio 702 on Friday, with the customary “I was quoted out of context”, compel me to break my silence.

Former South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel
Former South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel

I choose to address through this medium a response to what I consider to be reckless statements.

I want to put it to you that you are plainly wrong in your assumptions about the roles, responsibilities and attitudes of business. I do not wish to pretend that I am competent, or sufficiently knowledgeable, to speak for business. Nor do I believe that there is a monolithic view that can be ascribed to an entity called “business”.

In a curious manner, even attempting to secure a single ANC view on the events since the dismissal of Mr Nhlanhla Nene as minister of finance is exceedingly difficult, as was self-evident at the press conference of Tuesday, December 15.

Let me argue one small, but significant, point of disagreement. There was no rallying against the appointment of Mr Des van Rooyen as minister of finance. In fact, the largest cross-section of commentators withheld judgement because he is so completely unknown.

The few exceptions were people who knew him from Merafong. Even I, as an MP for the period he served in Parliament from 2009 to 2014, when he was my fellow ANC member, battled to recall who he was.

Subsequent attempts by various people in the ANC to justify his appointment as that of a rising star (I even heard Comrade Jessie Duarte describe him as the chief whip of the finance portfolio committee), fell flat.

Actually, the ANC has only one chief whip in the National Assembly, Stone Sizani, and his role is recognised by the rules of Parliament; portfolio committee whips are an internal party matter.

The issue of contention and disbelief was never about Mr Van Rooyen, it was about the summary dismissal of Mr Nene.

Having worked closely with Comrade Nene over a long period, I can confirm he is thoroughly decent, smart, diligent and more than capable. I have not heard any commentator interested in the economic management of South Africa raise any doubts about his leadership.

A few weeks before his removal, he demonstrated his mettle when he was prepared to disagree with SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni.

At that stage, some analysts raised the fact that he may have been demonstrating too much independence for President Jacob Zuma to tolerate. But he was merely insisting that SAA, as a state-owned company under his purview, be properly managed.

What is also clear from comments by Cabinet colleagues in the wake of Mr Nene’s dismissal was that when Cabinet adjourned at about 6pm on Wednesday, December 9, neither he nor Cabinet had any inkling of what was to follow that evening.

The suggestion by the president that Mr Nene was destined for some undefined post in the New Development Bank just does not wash. In fact, that assignment is unlikely to be even 15% of the size of that which he so ably performed as minister of finance.

I was in Cabinet when Mr Tito Mboweni was moved across from the department of labour to the SA Reserve Bank and when Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma left Cabinet to take up a position as chairperson of the African Union Commission.

In both those instances, the ground was properly prepared and Cabinet was apprised of developments.

This announcement for the New Development Bank was not time bound either, so why the haste? No attempt has been made to explain any of this.

We live in a world where there is so much information available. You may be surprised to learn how much is publicly available about Cabinet and government departments. I can therefore say that, from what I have heard, the removal of Mr Nene from his position both as minister of finance and as a Cabinet minister came as a complete shock to too many.

Yet it was not a shock to Des van Rooyen, whose soul mate, Gaddafi Rabotapi knew about this for more than a month (according to Mr Rabotapi himself, as quoted in the Saturday Star of December 12. By the way, what entitled Mr Rabotapi, as a nonmember of Cabinet, to know this?).

Similarly, Des’ brother was interviewed by the Mail & Guardian and he said he had been informed that “big things” would happen in the week.

Moreover, and if the press and the vast rumour mill are to be believed, for me the ultimate shocker was when Mr Van Rooyen arrived at National Treasury that Thursday morning with two advisers.

How did he appoint these advisers?

Since these advisers would have had to be placed on the payroll of Treasury, why did he not consult with the accounting officer and, importantly, how did he acquire their services even before he had been sworn in as a minister?

As a Cabinet minister, you would know that the position of ministerial advisers is used to help bridge the divide in skills between a minister and his or her department. How did Des van Rooyen know what skills were deficient in the Treasury?

Also, following his redeployment to the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, these highly specialised advisers accompanied him to this department. So, who determined that their skills were appropriate for either assignment? Or is that not a factor to consider, particularly with a portfolio as important as finance?

The picture I am sketching for you is that the saga of dismissing a competent minister and replacing him without warning or explanation led to a complete breakdown in trust.

It cannot be correct that there is an outside hand (and not the ruling party) that knows more than Cabinet does about unfolding events.

If the views expressed by ministers in the post-Cabinet briefing are correct – and I have no reason to doubt this – the events of the previous day shook the trust of the Cabinet collective at its roots.

If this view holds, the trust is not broken only with Cabinet, of course. It is also broken with the ANC, with the broader South African electorate, with the markets and with that entity you call “business”.

The breach of trust was not the first, but perhaps the last, straw that broke the camel’s back in the careless handling of a pivotal portfolio.

Please help us by explaining how we might repair the trust, the legitimacy and, if you must, the obedience of the governed. In my limited view, it is possible for autocrats to rule, but not for democrats to govern without the vital ingredient of trust.

Comradely greetings,

Trevor Manuel

  • Trevor Manuel was South Africa’s Finance Minister from 1996 to 2009 before taking over as the Minister in charge of the National Planning Commission which produced the National Development Plan, SA’s economic blueprint. He left the public service in 2014.
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