Turf war splits cabinet

2009-09-26 16:02

COSATU’s congress this week made public deep fissures in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet related to his centrepiece national planning commission and the future of ­economic policy.

Cabinet ministers sympathetic to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the SA Communist Party (SACP) want to catapult Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel to the centre of the country’s management of the economy and say he is being marginalised. Their arm is strengthened by a development indicators report ­released by the Presidency on Friday. The report shows that South Africa has beaten Brazil as the country with the highest rate of inequality in the world.
These ministers plan to take the battle to minister in the presidency responsible for the national planning commission, Trevor Manuel, whose green paper on the commission is perceived to reconfigure the distribution of power within cabinet in favour of his office.

Sources say Manuel’s discussion green paper refers to a planning ministry which they say is not part of the deal and would create a “ministry in charge of government. It envisages a completely over-reaching role,” says a source sympathetic to Patel. It represents a “consolidation of how Treasury worked”, he says in reference to a longstanding critique of the left, which believed that Manuel played the role of “superminister”.

Manuel was the subject of derision and fierce attacks at the ­recently ended Cosatu 10th congress held in Midrand, at which a number of influential alliance players agreed to stop his proposals in their tracks.

Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi said the alliance secretariat should attend to these fissures, but he was not sure when the next meeting would be held as he was attending to the funeral arrangements of his brother, who died this week.

Manuel said through his spokesperson, Zingaphi Jakuja, that he would not engage outside of what was specifically indicated in the green papers.

Manuel is keen to show that he is acting within a mandate set by the tripartite alliance.

In an article written for City Press, Manuel says: “In October last year a summit of the tripartite alliance (ANC, Cosatu and the SACP) resolved that there was a need for high-level planning, evaluation and monitoring capacity in government. This commission would have the power to align the work of all departments of government and organs of state to government’s developmental agenda.”

Ministers likely to be negatively affected by Manuel’s suggestions are Patel, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. Patel and Davies are considered leftists embedded in cabinet while Manuel is deemed the face of the “1996 Class Project”, a derogatory term for those who ran the economy under former president Thabo Mbeki.

At the congress, Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe sought to support Manuel and head off a battle with Patel, while making it clear that he is a minister in the Presidency, not the minister of planning. Zuma’s off-the-cuff remarks are interpreted by Patel’s supporters as affirming that Manuel will be subject to ­collective decision-making.

Patel leads the economic cluster of ministers and has a powerful mandate. He is in charge of the ­development of micro- and macro-economic policy.

Cosatu’s congress has resolved to lobby against any dilution of ­Patel’s role and any increase in Manuel’s powers.

A senior ANC member says his fear is that Manuel’s planning ­commission could usurp industrial policy from the trade and industry department and monetary and fiscal policy from the Treasury.

Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini says: “Ministers are equal. What has been subtly ­happening recently is that there are attempts to marginalise or ­suppress the function of other ­ministries, particularly some of the new ministries.”

Manuel’s article will appear in the next edition of City Press

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