Trevor Manuel should have been SA's president!

2013-09-25 12:15

That’s what I say! It would have sent a strong signal to potential investors that South Africa means business.

A country is in many respects like a business organisation (company). Companies go through various life-cycle phases and leaders with different strengths are required at each of these phases. If a company is in a birth or embryonic phase, a risk taker or someone with a strong marketing and sales background may be the ideal person to lead during this phase. Or say a company has reached a decline phase, an undertaker may be what is needed – someone who is not afraid to make tough decisions.

With this in mind, I believe Nelson Mandela’s courageous leadership was needed at the time of South Africa’s transition. Mandela demonstrated the remarkable ability to assemble a team with members that bring different strengths to the table. A good example was the man who would become his successor, Thabo Mbeki, with his Masters in Economics from the University of Sussex, who played a leading role with the process of economic policy formulation. The concept of ‘A better life for all’ – can (still) become a reality but it will have to be built on the foundation of sound economic policy.

Our world of today is and has been in a financial crisis for some time now. ‘During 2012 and the first half of 2013 the global economy continued to function under the cloud of a global financial crisis. This had its origin more than five years earlier and yet had not been adequately resolved, with the focus widening from the stability of the financial system to fiscal sustainability and sovereign debt issues.’ As we have seen, South Africa is by no means immune to this crisis. It would have been prudent to install a leader after Mbeki with the preparedness to continue on the journey to a sustainable economic future.

I believe that in Trevor Manuel we have someone of this calibre. Manuel not only has the required ‘struggle credentials’ but above all, has a track record that speaks for itself.  He was appointed Minister of Trade and Industry in 1994. Two years later, he became the Minister of Finance, a role he would fulfil for no less than 13 years. This puts in him a position to draw from very unique experience.

South Africa’s economy grew as with an average of 4.5 % year on year for the period 2002 -2008, the highest since 1994. However since 2009- 2012 the average growth rate has only been 1.9%. The growth was positive in 2009 (3.6%) but a negative growth rate was recorded in 2010. ‘The African Development Bank, which released its African Economic Outlook for 2013, stated that growth in South Africa would remain below 3% this year, pointing to structural problems in the economy. Interestingly, ‘the average growth forecast for the continent is at 4.8% and 5.3% for 2014. Countries like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are among the fastest growing countries on the continent, all with above 5% growth year on year.’

At the age of 57 Trevor Manuel probably has another ten to fifteen years of active public life in him. Back in 1994, commentators around the world and even in the country may have said ‘Trevor Who?’ But during his tenure Finance Minister he served his country with distinction. ‘The World Economic Forum selected Manuel as ‘Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1994 and he received numerous international awards and recognition for his accomplishments. He is regarded highly by a broad section of the South African public. South Africa reported its first budget surplus in 2007. A combination of increased prosperity, high commodity prices and a wider tax base were credited with the surge in revenue. Manuel also increased spending for education, housing and sanitation.’

Does Manuel want to be the SA President? My gut feel says: I don’t think so. Or could it be a case of: not yet?

(Sources: SARB Annual Economic Report,;;; and strategic management)


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