Manuel: I’m out

2012-12-16 10:00

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Planning Minister Trevor Manuel’s shock decision to quit active ANC politics doesn’t mean he is angry with the governing party.

However, he believes that the ANC’s values are being destroyed by the current competition for leadership positions, that it is time for younger leaders to take over, that the party’s policymaking is poor and that Parliament is weak.

In an exclusive interview with City Press yesterday, moments after it was revealed that Manuel had declined nomination to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), the veteran politician said he wanted to play a “different kind of role”.

Manuel told City Press he took the decision “as a matter of principle”.

The ANC’s 53rd national elective conference was rocked yesterday when Manuel and another struggle stalwart, Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin, announced that they would not continue serving in the ANC’s leadership structures.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who has never served on the NEC and who turned down a nomination in 2007, again declined to be nominated.

Manuel, who served as finance minister from 1996 to 2009, is a popular ANC leader. In 2002 he got the most votes of all the additional NEC members. In 1997 he came seventh, but at Polokwane in 2009 he fell to 57th position because many in the party thought his economic policy was too neoliberal.

“After 21 and a half years, you ask: do I still have the hunger?” Manuel said yesterday.

“I spoke this year at the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans event and took a decision as a matter of principle. It is time for young people to come through the system. I want to try to mentor. I feel there’s a duty to do that now.

“If everything is a competition, you destroy values (as is being done now). If this happens, you cannot draw on the skills and expertise (of people who leave after brutal competition). This was clear at Polokwane,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma is being challenged by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, for the ANC’s presidency.

In the Mail & Guardian speech, Manuel said his generation would be “out of play” by 2030 – the date the National Development Plan, which he steers, has set as a target. Those who are young now will be the decision makers then.

He also said that in the world of politics in which he operates, “logic does not always reign supreme”.

“I believe it is imperative that young people are represented properly. In other words, a political handover to sensible young people is not only advisable, but necessary.”

This week Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu reportedly told Manuel he did not belong in this government, but Manuel said he would not leave his government position before his term ends. Ministers in important economic policymaking roles, like Rob Davies (trade and industry), Ebrahim Patel (economic development) and Pravin Gordhan (treasury), were not on the NEC, he added.

In 2008 – after then president Thabo Mbeki was recalled – Manuel, who was finance minister at the time, followed suit, saying he did so because he believed it was required of him.

Soon after, he withdrew his resignation.

Manuel’s wish is for a smaller NEC “of fewer cadres and better-quality discussions”. He said Parliament was “weak” at overseeing 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 he didn’t think he would take up any of the global jobs available to him, other than the work he was doing already.

Asked how he would exercise  his mentoring role, Manuel said: “There are a variety of ways?.?.?.?I have derived a lot of joy from my work in my constituency. It allows us to regenerate skills and experience.”

In 2010 Manuel established the Mitchells Plain Education Forum in his constituency.

The forum has started 52 projects to advance quality education, skills development and opportunities for unemployed youth in the area after school.

Cronin says his decision to decline nomination is not meant to say anything about his confidence in the leadership of the ANC.

“I’m overstretched. There are some comrades who are less intellectual and more organisational.

They can straddle the divide easier, but I can’t,” he told City Press outside an NEC meeting in Mangaung.

He’s been an NEC member for 21 years.

He said he did not feel his government job as deputy public works minister was at risk.

“There are lots of people in government who are not NEC members.”

He added that the left was more secure in the ANC now.

“This has been one of the more pleasant NECs. There was a concerted effort before Polokwane to push out the SA Communist Party, but now we feel secure. I wouldn’t say the battle of the left has been won, but it is now in a better position than ever before.”

The ANC’s conference starts today, where it is set to nominate and elect its top six officials overnight.

- Carien du Plessis, Mandy Rossouw and Sabelo Ndlangisa

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