Midas loses touch

Trevor Manuel is truly the Teflon minister. Or should one say, the

Teflon “planner”? The man can do no wrong.

If he isn’t liquidating journalists,

ruining book launches, getting into fisticuffs with colleagues or calling the

clamour for Aids drugs “voodoo” and “bunkum” – he’s ­admonishing Parliament to

“be real” about his purchase of a multimillion-rand car.

No matter how fatuous the utterance, ­inopportune the decision, or

arrogant the posturing, Manuel remains the country and the media’s golden boy:

Midas Manuel.

Manuel relentlessly pursued anti-arms deal campaigner Terry

­Crawford-Browne until, last year, he was left with the clothes on his back:

evincing ­remarkable doggedness for a man above ­reproach.

Allan Boesak’s book launch has been­ ­“indefinitely postponed”

after Manuel got wind Boesak would reveal how he paid the Manuels’ papgeld while

Trevor was behind bars.

In early 2003, when campaigners were clamouring for government to

provide ­anti-Aids drugs to dying people, Manuel wasn’t exactly in the loony

camp – but then again he didn’t stand up to be counted ­either.

According to Hansard, Manuel didn’t like the idea of the state

investing wholesale in antiretroviral drugs.

Those calling for a Nuremburg-style

trial to deal with Aids deaths under former president Thabo Mbeki would do well

to consider Manuel’s role.

And let’s not forget his gem on the undeserving poor in May 2008

when he ­reportedly rejected the idea of food ­vouchers for them ­because there

was no way of ensuring they, the great unwashed, would not spend it “on alcohol

and other things”.

One thing the poor surely wouldn’t be spending their vouchers on

are a new set of wheels.

During his so-called apology for the car in ­Parliament

last year, he told MPs the purchase of the BMW “wasn’t entirely well-advised”.

But, he added, he was well within his rights: “A decision was taken and it’s one

of those decisions that you live with.”

And there you have it. In tough economic times, when people are

either being asked to fork out more taxes or be patient – a ­humane backbone

seems the last thing on Trevor’s mind.

Just this week he took some time off from his “planning job to side

with ­parastatals on World Cup ticket-spending sprees.

In that sage way of his, he reminded us mortals that public

enterprises aren’t ­exactly government entities and they needed to wine, dine

and watch soccer to attract business.

Telling the public not to “hyperventilate” when the likes of SAA

built “relationships” with clients, he added: “These business entities have to

run themselves in a particular way.”

Ja, Trevor, we know which way that is.


Clearly Manuel has been too busy (maybe with planning) to notice

the systematic and wholesale looting of Eskom, the SABC, SAA and other

quasi-state bodies over the last decade.

Beset by mismanagement, corruption and sheer inefficiency, the

Special ­Investigations Unit is said to be “struggling to keep up” with all the

referrals from many of these parasitic entities.

Manuel seems to have lost the crystal ball that served him so well

when he was “the world’s longest-serving finance minister” (source: his

Wikipaedia page).

He has lost his ability to read the mood. Either that or he

has bought into his own hype.

Or as they would say on the rough streets of the Cape Flats, with

which Manuel is well familiar: “Hy dink die son skyn uit sy gat uit.” (He thinks

the sun shines out of his arse).

If he were anyone else, these unfortunate utterances would have

invited public ­ridicule or censure from his party. These are words – as his

gentle biographer would say – that would “flay most mortals”.

But then again, according to his ­adoring fan clubs in the media

and ­elsewhere, Manuel is no mere mortal.

He led the country out of the darkness into the light. When he

resigned in a huff in 2008, the rand crashed (well, nearly). He’s even been

named “global leader for tomorrow” by the World Bank.

But the more he opens his mouth these days, the more he runs the

risk of becoming the Julius Malema of grown-up politics.

If all the schmoozing Trevor speaks of has had any effect

whatsoever, it’s high time we saw the evidence.

The World Cup tickets are the

tip of the iceberg of parastatal partying, “boosting morale” or “networking”.

There is now talk of design fests, wine-tasting events, ­weekend getaways for

staff, jazz concerts and the rugby.

Has this networking made any dent ­whatsoever on their revenue

generation by way of new business?

Why then does the state have to keep jumping in with multimillion-

(or billion-) rand bailouts?

And wouldn’t Facebook be cheaper as a networking venue for the

connected elites?

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