South Africa needs a younger president - Trevor Manuel

2017-07-20 08:26
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel addressing Stellenbosch University students. (James de Villiers, News24)

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel addressing Stellenbosch University students. (James de Villiers, News24)

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Cape Town – Why must South Africa have a president double the age of the bulk of South Africans who are below 35, former finance minister Trevor Manuel asked Stellenbosch University (SU) students on Wednesday.

Manuel, who was at the university museum to speak about the role of students as active citizens, agreed with an audience member expressing concern over the age of leadership within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

"I don’t understand it. One of the reasons I stepped out of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC voluntarily [is because] I’d served for 21 years in the NEC and I said I can’t continue to serve, I mustn’t hang onto this position with white knuckles," Manuel said.

President Jacob Zuma is currently aged 75.

Manuel compared South Africa to the United States of America, saying the country managed to elect president Barack Obama while he was still in his 40s.

He said the ANC "has got to bring through a generation of people who want to be there and will be active and say to other people: you served us well, become part of a general reservoir of information and knowledge and a sounding board for what we do, but don’t sit in the chairs of those who need to be there".

Manuel, however, admitted that his views about making space for younger leaders are held by a minority of ANC members.

 - Also read: Coalition in 2019 could mean instability for SA - Manuel

Throughout his address, Manuel referred to the importance of an active civil society in keeping governmental organisations accountable.

"Democracy is never about elections once in every five years, it’s about building dynamic processes that involve people in their everyday lives. If we lose, if we give up on that opportunity I think we fail fundamentally to understand what democracy requires of us," he said.

Manuel said a lack of organisation in communities led to service delivery protests which were often violent.

"People don’t know how to organise, don’t ever put pressure on local authorities or provincial authorities to deal with these issues… My sense of it is that organised communities ought to be able to respond differently."

He used community safety and gender violence as issues he feels need to be addressed by communities on the ground.

"[Sexual abuse] is not a women’s issue, it’s a campus life issue and I think mobilising students to behave differently to deal with the past of patriarchy and abusive relationships is something we must take a lot more seriously," Manuel said.

Fees Must Fall

Manuel, who was involved in student activism at the University of the Western Cape in the 1970s, said he disagrees with current student demands for free tertiary education.

"My view of life is that somebody like Trevor Manuel who is okay in life should be required to pay for his children’s education and to demand free education for all advantages me rather than developing a needs-based approach that allows us to ensure full support for students in need."

He said if Fees Must Fall truly wants to transform education, it would not be caught up with "slogans", but address the dismal basic education performance in the country.

Manuel said students need to learn how to incorporate communities in their campaigns for transformation at universities.

"Part of my own conscientisation was when in 1973 there was a walk on campus at the University of the Western Cape... and the first port of call was community after community to ensure that parents, broadly speaking, supported students' campaigns. That’s how you win struggles, sometimes it means a little bit of comprise to deal in the way we include all the people and so on."

Read more on:    trevor manuel  |  cape town  |  politics  |  education

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