Trevor Manuel is the highest profile ANC leader yet to call on President Jacob Zuma to resign. A politician since 1981 and South Africa’s highly respected Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2009, he served presidencies of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.
Manuel chaired the National Development Plan and during the First Zuma Administration (2009 to 2014) was a Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission. Manuel, married to Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos, left full-time politics two years ago; is the deputy chairman of Rothschild in South Africa, and was recently appointed chairman of Old Mutual. Manuel has also joined the chorus of ANC stalwarts calling for Zuma’s head.
Tim Modise: One of the longest-serving Finance Ministers in this country South Africa (in our nation) is Mr Trevor Manuel who has recently been appointed Chairman of Old Mutual. He is joining us to talk about the current state of affairs, his new position, and his experience. Of course, at this time, the nation that seems to be in turmoil around the Constitutional Court ruling in terms of the responsibilities of the President and his liabilities in terms of his Nkandla home as well as the Constitution, which he is said to have violated. The Constitutional Court said that the President did not abide by his oath. Those would be some of the issues, which we’ll talk about. We’ll talk about his experience in politics. We’ll talk about his experience now in business and also his personal development over the years going back to the days of the UDF. Mr Trevor Manuel, it’s a pleasure to have you with us.
I wish we could just go back to that time of activism when you were still a youngster in the Western Cape, mobilizing communities etcetera, but we’ll get to that point at a later stage. Let’s deal with the current situation that we find the nation in, at this time. The President taken to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court finds against him as well as against the National Assembly. How did you feel when you listened to the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng hand down his ruling?
I’m very attached to the Constitution because of its origin. When I look at the Constitution, I look at the preamble, I look at the founding provisions, I look at the Bill of Rights, and then I know that it was a President of the African National Congress, (Oliver Tambo) who put all of this in place. It’s for that reason that the Constitution echoes the traditions of the African National Congress and the Freedom Charter as strongly as it does. The Constitution: the first words are a call on us to remember the sacrifices of those for justice. This is a particularly poignant moment in the history of this country. This week marks the 27th anniversary of the judicial murder of Solomon Mahlangu. He was a big motivator in our lives. We sing his praises. How do we honour him when the courts have to remind us that we have responsibilities to who we are and where we come from?
I think it’s a very deep tragedy. The reality of course – and its set out very well in judgment (and bear in mind that it’s a Consensus Judgment of the 11 judges of the Constitutional Court)… The consensus view is that they could go as far as they can but in the separation of powers, they couldn’t explain how the President should actually exercise his Executive Authority. Similarly, the Court couldn’t tell Parliament how to do its work but I could (and did) point out that Parliament had failed the Constitution by not exercising oversight over the way in which the Executive functions. My own sense of it is that it’s a deep moment of crisis in our country but we must be thankful that we have a system of courts, which are as resolute as they are. However, if we want our democracy to function then it’s largely how the other two arms of Government work.
Does the Executive actually live out its responsibility to serve the people every single day? Does the Parliamentary System oversee that the Executive doesn’t? If that is working then the court should be asleep. You shouldn’t have the court in your face every single day. Our problem right now is because the other two arms of Government appear to be less active about what they should be doing, it’s actually cause for the courts to act but judicial activism is always a bad thing because the judges are not elected by anybody. We must express a concern in Constitutional terms but not just for the Constitution. I think our concern must be raised about the ability to serve our people much better.
Now, even before the court, there was great expectation that the ANC NEC is going to somehow, censure the President in terms of the Nkandla matter and other related developments in recent times. That did not materialize. The court sat down, handed down its ruling, and then the call (now a crescendo) was made that the President should step down. What do you think about that? It’s coming from all over the place: the opposition parties, the media commentators, and ordinary folk including senior members of the ANC – highly-respected people like Mr Ahmed Kathrada for instance, the veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the others?
I think there’s a very strong message in the way in which Ahmed Kathrada communicated and it’s a humble message. It says, “Mr President, please listen to the people and resign.” That voice is a very strong voice of the people. It’s the voice of thinking people across South Africa (black and white) – the voice of people who recognise the strength of our Constitution, and the value of the decision of the Constitutional Court. Similarly, the veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the generals, actually): when they’ve spoken, they recognise Jacob Zuma Msholozi as coming from their ranks and they take a political view that is premised on the history of who we are and where we come from, and I don’t think that you can just ignore these kinds of things. I once spoke about a situation and I said when my sons were growing up that part of what you had to do as a father when you were at home was to read nursery rhymes and one of the things the boys loved was the story of the gingerbread man.
It says, “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.” Now, that’s a nice story but it’s not that good if you’re the President. It’s not about your ability to evade other people deciding what you should do. It’s your ability to lead, which is very different. It’s not the gingerbread man. It’s the leader of a people/of a nation. It’s living out an oath that you took when you assumed the Presidency for the second time on May 24, 2014 and an oath, which sadly, a court had to remind you that you had taken. I think it’s a deep tragedy.
You have lived through something similar to this where the former President Thabo Mbeki was actually asked to resign by his own organisation (the ANC), which he duly did within a day or so. You also took the step of resigning yourself at that time and then subsequent to that, a new Government was formed and you got back to the opposition a Finance Minister. When you look at what is going on now around the call that the President should resign – coming from broader masses of people and different interest groups – at the time in the case of Thabo Mbeki, it was specifically coming from the ANC. What do you think? How do you compare the two situations?
I don’t think that the two situations are comparable. What happened ahead of the conference in Polokwane in 277, there was a big alliance of people who disagreed with and disliked Thabo Mbeki as president. I think that he made narrow judgment by wanting to serve a third term at it set the stage for difficulty, a lot of the individuals, who were then there and brought Jacob Zuma to power have all abandoned that cause. Whether you’re talking of the loudest voice there, which was Julius Malema, or whether you’re speaking of [inaudible 0:09:03.5] or the [inaudible 0:09:06.4] of the South African Communist Party, or the disaffected people, who were in the mainstream of the ANC. It was a large voice that then saw Thabo Mbeki not returned as President of the ANC, which then set the scene for an ordinary NEC meeting in September of 2008, to ask him to step aside. Now I think the situation is not comfortable because it’s not… I mean those forces have all abandoned. They maybe reconvening and saying ‘but what we hoped would happen, after the Polokwane conference, has not happened’. Things have actually taken a turn for the worst but there is actually, a much more, a much broader and more resonant voice, to which you have added the highest Court in the land. That actually suggests that it’s not a minor, political infringement but a violation of the key Oath of Office of the Head of State, which I think is a deep crisis. I think it’s in all of our interests that the President actually steps aside.
Let’s go back to December, when one of your successors, Mr Nhlanhla Nene, was fired summarily. The nation did not anticipate that and it seemed like South Africa was dealing with its own challenges, Ministers in place. Then late in the evening, on the 9th December, he got fired in the manner that he was. What did you think of those developments? How did you feel when you looked at the way he was dismissed (Nhlanhla Nene), having being your colleague as well, in the Finance Ministry?
Tim, let me just state for the record that I don’t ever want to be accused of ruling from the grave, so I studiously avoid it, commenting, being drawn into any meetings – there wasn’t any meetings. Now, I read and hear that Johann Rupert flew in and that he demanded a meeting with Cyril Ramaphosa, when Maria Ramos and I attended. That is so blatantly untrue. I wasn’t in any meeting at all, not a single meeting. In fact, opted to bite my lip and hold my views to myself until the 17th December, when the Minister of Small Business, Lindiwe Zulu, had accused everybody who was in disagreement with the decision of wanting to stage a coup. That I wrote an open letter that the City Press published, and in it I said, “I don’t understand it. Leave Desmond David van Rooyen out of the equation for the moment. I cannot understand why you would take a decent, hardworking, committed, smart, efficient, and capable Minister, like Nhlanhla Nene, and drop him without reason. Then conjure up some reason, like he would be required to sit in the regional office of a bank to be developed, which may utilise ten to 15 percent of his responsible time that he had demonstrated in the Finance Ministry. Why do you do those kinds of things?” I was pretty shocked by the way in which it happened and that it happened at all, which is why having held my own views, (bitten my lip). When the opportunity arose to say ‘this isn’t a coup it’s about us, as democrats, expressing concern, when you remove somebody from office, without just cause’.
Now, let me go back to that point you mentioned where you said yourself, and your wife, Maria Ramos, and now the Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, met with Johann Rupert. How does that make you feel when you read those reports? Of course they were repeated, over and over, this was said somewhere, and there might have been people who believed that.
Yes, it was said somewhere. I think even worst I’m told that it was raised in a NEC. I can’t quite fathom why people would make up lies but if anybody had asked for my opinion, or for confirmation, I’d be able to say, without fear of contradiction that I wasn’t in any meeting. I know that my wife participated in a meeting, and present in that meeting, with the Treasury General of the ANC, and the Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, with a number of other people from banks and things. I wasn’t present and I didn’t influence what happened in that meeting but people need to conjure. There’s a fundamental problem, which I think arose in the place where the debate first poked out its head. That is that there’s an acquisition of State culture and, in respect of that issue, there’s a narrative that people then try and suggest. It’s not just that the Guptas have the present admin. Well, everybody has been captured by the State therefore; if the Guptas have us then Rupert has somebody else. It’s not like that. Nobody, no other wealthy businessperson, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking of Patrice Motsepe, Johann Rupert, or Nicky Oppenheimer have invited somebody to their home and said, “Tim Modise, I want to appoint you Minister of something tomorrow. Are you happy with it?” Nobody else has ever behaved like that. I think we’ve got a deep crisis on that front as well.