Gupta crusader to media owner: Who is Mzwanele Manyi?

Mzwanele (Jimmy) Manyi. (Netwerk24)
Mzwanele (Jimmy) Manyi. (Netwerk24)

Outspoken Zuma supporter and Gupta crusader Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi can now add a new title to his ever growing list of credentials – that of media owner.

On Monday it was announced that Manyi’s company Lodidox bought Gupta-owned news channel ANN7 (Infinity Media) for R300m and The New Age newspaper (TNA Media) for R150m.

A “delighted” Manyi said he was looking forward to developing it into “an increasingly important and relevant part of the South African media landscape”. 

Given his previous utterances on ANN7 providing a “quite refreshing” and alternative take on news events, and the fact that the Gupta-owned Oakbay is sponsoring the transaction it should be interesting to see what Manyi uses his newly acquired media platforms for. 

The former government spokesperson has been an outspoken supporter of President Jacob Zuma and has played a central role in the now infamous British PR firm Bell Pottinger's social media campaign to change public perceptions about the Gupta family.

He has become known for his relentless tweets to discredit, among others, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and has been a loud and outspoken advocate against white monopoly capital. Several fake Twitter accounts, allegedly set up as part of the vast PR campaign to defend the Guptas and tweeting under the hashtag #handsoffguptas have been linked to his account.

Gupta-phobia not a problem

Manyi was recently drawn into the #Guptaleaks scandal, after emails between him and CEO of the Gupta-owned Sahara, Ashu Chawla, revealed how he allegedly tried to gain employment for himself and an employee from the Gupta family.

In response, Manyi said that he did not see a problem in associating with the controversial Gupta family. He claimed the Guptas had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the country’s independent institutions and the only reason they were being labelled as wrongdoers was because they were disrupting the business elite from taking advantage of South Africans.

"I have a problem with hypocrites that we have in this country that are going to say Guptas this, Guptas that, and yet the same people have got nothing to say with banks of this country that are ripping us off every day – these hypocrites are quiet about this.

"The crime the Guptas have committed is to disrupt the white monopoly capital in their eating [of money]," he said. "I do not have a problem of a Gupta-phobia. If you associate me with a Gupta that does nothing to worry me because Guptas are not outlaws.”

This didn’t stop the Black Business Council (BBC) from purportedly forcing his resignation as head of policy in March this year due to “constant pressure” owing to Manyi’s ties to the Guptas. He remains on the BBC council by virtue of being president of the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF).

In August 2016 he founded the Mzwanele Manyi Decolonisation Foundation, allegedly with the help of Bell Pottinger. One month later the foundation laid a formal charge of treason against AngloGold Ashanti and its chairperson, Sipho Pityana, for rallying business to support a regime change after Pityana called for President Jacob Zuma’s resignation.

No stranger to controversy

Manyi’s contemptuous relationship with the media started when he became Cabinet spokesperson and CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in February 2011. 

He controversially kicked off his first press conference with a list of things he would not talk about and followed it by telling reporters to just “trust me”.

When his tenure came to an end, political analyst Prof Adam Habib told the Mail & Guardian that he had left one of the “worst legacies as a government communicator”.

"Instead of conveying government news he became the subject of news. That's not what you want from the head of the GCIS. He did not do as well as he could have," said Habib.

One such example was when, in March 2010, he commented during an interview on Afrikaans subscription channel KykNet that coloured people were too concentrated in the Western Cape. 

“I think it’s very important for coloured people in this country to understand that South Africa belongs to them in totality, not just the Western Cape.

“So this over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape is not working for them. They should spread in the rest of the country. So they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are, so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply. This Employment Equity Act is a very good act in this country,” Manyi said.

This provoked the ire of Trevor Manuel, National Planning Minister at the time. Manuel wrote an open letter to Manyi, calling him a “worst-order racist”. 

Shortly thereafter, in 2011, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that while DG of Labour, Manyi had failed to comply with the Public Service Code of Conduct and the rules on how to manage conflicts of interest between his official duties and his role as president of the Black Management Forum (BMF). 

Manyi had allegedly, as Labour DG, held a meeting with the Norwegian ambassador at the time, Tor Christian-Hilden. At the meeting he offered the BMF’s assistance to help the Norwegians get a grip on black economic empowerment requisites. This would’ve led to closer relationships between business people (read: Manyi’s friends) and the Norwegians. Christian-Hilden complained and Madonsela’s office launched an investigation, finding him guilty of the conflict of interest. Manyi rubbished the report. 

In 2014 Manyi was appointed advisor to then Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. In October last year the ministry released a statement saying it distances itself from Manyi after he tweeted that SABC executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng was on the “right side” of the Employment Equity Act regarding his qualifications, only to retract it shortly after on instructions from Muthambi.

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