LISTEN | 10 or 30 wasted years under the ANC? Listen to Trevor Manuel and decide for yourself

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Fin24 on the weekend wrote an article quoting the former finance minister as saying that almost three decades of the country's history had been "wasted".
  • The article caused a strong reaction from the ANC, who said there there is "absolutely no basis to portray a doom-laden picture of the country".
  • Manuel has distanced himself from the quote, saying Fin24 should have realised he did not intend to say what he did. 

This past Saturday, August 22, Fin24 published an article based on comments attributable to former finance minister, Trevor Manuel, on a webinar hosted by the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office and the Hanns Seidel Foundation about Germany's social market economy and to what extent it could or should be a model for South Africa. 

We quoted the former finance minister as saying that almost three decades of the country's history had been wasted, in place of pursuing a more just and equitable society. He has since distanced himself from that assertion and the Fin24 story.

We thought it best to lay out the full extent of what Manuel said and what we used in our reporting, so that you can decide for yourself.

In summary, Manuel was asked a question by moderator Mike Pothier near the end of the webinar on his thoughts on the country's economic journey post 1994.

As part of his reply, Manuel said a "big challenge" confronting South Africa is: "[W]hat we do now, with almost three decades that were wasted?"

He then went on to say that, in the period between 2000 to 2007, there was "considerable period of growth, employment and then the opportunity to raise the quality of life".

He then states that after 2007 the ANC was "was caught in its own battles and President Mbeki was removed, replaced by Jacob Zuma. A decade was lost."

Fin24 has a cut a two-minute clip of the webinar, posted at the top of this article. For more context, a transcript of the question and answer is provided at the bottom of this article. Readers can view the full webinar here. Manuel makes the remarks in question at around 1 hour 18 minutes. 

After the article was published on Saturday, the ANC said in a statement on Monday that it was "deeply concerned" by the utterances attributed to Manuel, saying there was "absolutely no basis to portray a doom-laden picture of the country to the media and to the outside world". 

Manuel, the country's longest-serving finance minister, then said in an interview with SAFM's Stephen Grootes on Tuesday morning that there was a clear "contradiction" in saying that both ten years were wasted and three decades were wasted, and that Fin24 should have approached him for comment or clarification.

"Now it is not possible to say that [a reference to ten wasted years under Jacob Zuma], and talk about three wasted decades as though there is no contradiction?"

In a letter to Fin24, meanwhile, Manuel said that although he was quoted correctly in the article, it should have been clear to Fin24 that he did not intend to say "we wasted three decades".

He noted that the fact that he spoke of reasonably high growth between 2000 and 2007 should have alerted Fin24 to the fact that he did not intend to say that three decades were wasted. 

Fin24 has referred Manuel's letter to News24's public editor, Professor George Claassen.

Transcript of webinar 

Moderator Mike Pothier

"Two contextual points that I think are important: the one is South Africa has been emerging and is still hopefully emerging from our own history of division - largely racial, but not only racial divisions. That surely makes it difficult for us to adopt a kind of single-minded purpose, a shared purpose across those divisions. Germany did not have that particular problem in the aftermath of the Second World War.

And then there is a comment or question around the geography of it. Germany found itself more or less, or well inserted into a Europe which was rebuilding and which was benefiting from massive international aid, the Marshsall Plan etc., etc.

Whereas we don't really seem to be receiving that kind of shall we say external assistance in terms of  bolstering our economy.

Do those two points, our different histories and our different geographies, do they have a big impact on how we approach this Trevor?"

Trevor Manuel:

"Obviously, those things are fundamentally important.

Also bear in mind that, in Germany at the time, because of excesses of World War 1 and World War 2, at the time that Eucken [a reference to German economist Walter Eucken] first introduced the idea, the German military was very very deeply suppressed. In terms of international law, it was taken apart.

Even where Markus [Professor Dr Markus Beckmann, who also spoke during the webinar] finds himself now, Berlin was under the allied forces and not within German control. So those things actually had a profound impact and I think that, the question of how you resolve quality of life issues has been very well handled.

But these are not static issues.

What would have been unthinkable, at that point in Germany as well, is the idea - you have seen the rise of the, AfD, Alternative für Deutschland - a party which is right wing and almost fascist. That would have been quite unthinkable at the time in Germany. So, history I think casts a long shadow over what we do.

The big challenge that confronts us in South Africa, what we do, now with almost three decades that were wasted? We made some significant process. We caught ourselves in the most unbelievable bind.

The data won't lie, the period from 2000 to 2007 was a actually a considerable period of growth, employment and then the opportunity to raise the quality of life.

And then, the ANC, was caught in its own battles and President Mbeki was removed, replaced by Jacob Zuma, a decade was lost. And so all of these things will have a profound impact on what we can do to take things forward.

But you know, these are not just static issues.

What has happened is that the state has been considerably weakened, last week we saw the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, talking about what needs to be done.

And the entire prosecutorial service has been hollowed out. The entire criminal justice system has been hollowed out.

And so the ability of the state to enforce law is so miniscule and without that I think the basic principles that one would require of a state cannot be delivered on.

If you can't protect people, if you can't ensure that the institutions function to advance their livelihoods and if you can't maintain a justice system that feels like it's inclusive, I think you face an enormous challenge.

And I am hoping, that by raising these matters now, the sense of a traumatised nation will be understood and the battle be used for a new compact going forward - over and above the gist reality of what Covid-19 has cost us as a nation. Both in terms of lives and livelihoods."

* What are your views on the debate around South Africa's lost decades? Subscribers can comment below or email your views to

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Should government have assigned a majority shareholding in SAA to the private sector?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, It's a good decision
70% - 668 votes
Not a good move
9% - 85 votes
Too early to tell
21% - 204 votes