Jimmy Manyi is not the anti-Christ

2011-03-10 00:00

AS a white member of the Black Management Forum (BMF), I am in the minority — obviously. I joined the organisation a couple of years ago and wondered at the time if I would really be accepted by the group. Often admission criteria are written but not really practised. With the evolving democracy within our country, I deemed it would be expedient to add white membership to this organisation, to challenge its claims of "non-racial". Jimmy Manyi is the president of the BMF.

Despite being white, I have been totally accepted and embraced by the members of the organisation. Deafening applause always greets my admissions of being a member of this group. The robust debate encouraged by the BMF is intellectually stimulating and invigorating. Freedom of speech is not only tolerated, but protected.

Two years ago, I was present at the annual general meeting and conference at Gallagher Estate. At that gathering were a number of politicians, representative of the different parties of our government. Also present to deliver a speech was the man who attracts the media like bees to honey, Julius Malema. I raised a number of controversial issues, including the questionability of Julius as a role model for the youth of the country. The response from now Minister of Sport and Culture Fikile Mbalula regarding that very issue was dignified and respectful.

Jimmy Manyi has always displayed the utmost respect and dignity when communicating with me and responding to my somewhat controversial utterances.

I served on a panel of the BMF Constitutional Symposium last year discussing the provisions of the Constitution and land reform last year. This is my area of expertise: involvement with land reform beneficiaries and agriculture. I did not mince my words regarding land reform and yet was totally appreciated by Jimmy. His demonstration of appreciation was a humbling experience for me. His display of gentlemanly manners was out of the top drawer, silencing a young man whose voluble display was somewhat disruptive and giving me a helping hand off the stage. This is not the Jimmy Manyi that the media are portraying.

My intellect cannot come to grips with this person who is accused of being the engineer of the amendments to the Employment Equity Act. Who passes the bills before Parliament? The majority of MPs. When Jimmy discusses statistics (employment equity for example) — formulated according to government policy — who is to blame for those statistics? Let's refrain from killing the messenger. I also have first-hand experience of hearing a speech made by Jimmy where it was made known that a person with a black skin must not think that he or she will get a job merely because he or she has a black skin. He said that the person should be adequately skilled to fulfil the requirements of the employment position. Added to that was the comment that not enough is being done to assist people to become skilled enough to do the job.

Jimmy cannot be coupled with the engineers of apartheid. Unfortunately, he is a product of that system. I personally believe that this has engendered his passionate involvement in attempting to bring about transformation. As the pendulum swings, so we understand responses. I do believe that Jimmy is no fool and will not sacrifice this country to a different form of "apartheid". He has a tremendous sense of humour that we all enjoy and I for one am most distressed that so much that is said by him is taken out of context.

Robust debate can only survive when all opinions are given a forum. That is why Jimmy Manyi and the BMF cannot be accused of engineering a form of apartheid. There was no robust debate during those years. The majority were silenced. God forbid that we ever enter that domain of silence again.

• Susan Pletts is a business­person from Lions River.

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