SA’s trust has been bro­ken

I put it to you that you are in your as­sump­tions about the roles, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and at­ti­tudes of busi­ness

CityPress - - Voices - Trevor Manuel

You may have ob­served that I re­frained from com­ment­ing on the events of the past week. I have been con­tacted by at least 15 jour­nal­ists since last Thurs­day, but opted to re­main above the fray. It is not that I’ve not had opin­ions, but I chose to re­main silent. How­ever, your com­ments, as quoted in the Mail & Guardian and con­firmed on Ra­dio 702 on Fri­day, with the cus­tom­ary “I was quoted out of con­text”, com­pel me to break my si­lence.

I choose to ad­dress through this medium a re­sponse to what I con­sider to be reck­less state­ments.

I want to put it to you that you are plainly wrong in your as­sump­tions about the roles, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and at­ti­tudes of busi­ness. I do not wish to pre­tend that I am com­pe­tent, or suf­fi­ciently knowl­edge­able, to speak for busi­ness. Nor do I be­lieve that there is a mono­lithic view that can be as­cribed to an en­tity called “busi­ness”. In a cu­ri­ous man­ner, even at­tempt­ing to se­cure a sin­gle ANC view on the events since the dis­missal of Mr Nh­lanhla Nene as min­is­ter of fi­nance is ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult, as was self-ev­i­dent at the press con­fer­ence of Tues­day, De­cem­ber 15.

Let me ar­gue one small, but sig­nif­i­cant, point of dis­agree­ment. There was no ral­ly­ing against the ap­point­ment of Mr Des van Rooyen as min­is­ter of fi­nance. In fact, the largest cross-sec­tion of com­men­ta­tors with­held judge­ment be­cause he is so com­pletely un­known. The few ex­cep­tions were peo­ple who knew him from Mer­a­fong. Even I, as an MP for the pe­riod he served in Par­lia­ment from 2009 to 2014, when he was my fel­low ANC mem­ber, bat­tled to re­call who he was. Sub­se­quent at­tempts by var­i­ous peo­ple in the ANC to jus­tify his ap­point­ment as that of a ris­ing star (I even heard Com­rade Jessie Duarte de­scribe him as the chief whip of the fi­nance port­fo­lio com­mit­tee), fell flat. Ac­tu­ally, the ANC has only one chief whip in the Na­tional Assem­bly, Stone Sizani, and his role is recog­nised by the rules of Par­lia­ment; port­fo­lio com­mit­tee whips are an in­ter­nal party mat­ter.

The is­sue of con­tention and dis­be­lief was never about Mr Van Rooyen, it was about the sum­mary dis­missal of Mr Nene. Hav­ing worked closely with Com­rade Nene over a long pe­riod, I can con­firm he is thor­oughly de­cent, smart, dili­gent and more than ca­pa­ble. I have not heard any com­men­ta­tor in­ter­ested in the eco­nomic man­age­ment of South Africa raise any doubts about his lead­er­ship. A few weeks be­fore his re­moval, he demon­strated his met­tle when he was pre­pared to dis­agree with SAA chair­per­son Dudu Myeni. At that stage, some an­a­lysts raised the fact that he may have been demon­strat­ing too much in­de­pen­dence for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to tol­er­ate. But he was merely in­sist­ing that SAA, as a state-owned com­pany un­der his purview, be prop­erly man­aged.

What is also clear from com­ments by Cabi­net col­leagues in the wake of Mr Nene’s dis­missal was that when Cabi­net ad­journed at about 6pm on Wed­nes­day, De­cem­ber 9, nei­ther he nor Cabi­net had any inkling of what was to fol­low that evening. The sug­ges­tion by the pres­i­dent that Mr Nene was des­tined for some un­de­fined post in the New Devel­op­ment Bank just does not wash. In fact, that as­sign­ment is un­likely to be even 15% of the size of that which he so ably per­formed as min­is­ter of fi­nance.

I was in Cabi­net when Mr Tito Mboweni was moved across from the de­part­ment of labour to the SA Re­serve Bank and when Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma left Cabi­net to take up a po­si­tion as chair­per­son of the African Union Com­mis­sion. In both those in­stances, the ground was prop­erly pre­pared and Cabi­net was ap­prised of de­vel­op­ments. This an­nounce­ment for the New Devel­op­ment Bank was not time bound ei­ther, so why the haste? No at­tempt has been made to ex­plain any of this.

We live in a world where there is so much in­for­ma­tion avail­able. You may be sur­prised to learn how much is pub­licly avail­able about Cabi­net and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. I can there­fore say that, from what I have heard, the re­moval of Mr Nene from his po­si­tion both as min­is­ter of fi­nance and as a Cabi­net min­is­ter came as a com­plete shock to too many.

Yet it was not a shock to Des van Rooyen, whose soul mate, Gaddafi Rab­o­tapi, knew about this for more than a month (ac­cord­ing to Mr Rab­o­tapi him­self, as quoted in the Satur­day Star of De­cem­ber 12. By the way, what en­ti­tled Mr Rab­o­tapi, as a non­mem­ber of Cabi­net, to know this?). Sim­i­larly, Des’ brother was in­ter­viewed by the Mail & Guardian and he said he had been in­formed that “big things” would hap­pen in the week. More­over, and if the press and the vast ru­mour mill are to be be­lieved, for me the ul­ti­mate shocker was when Mr Van Rooyen ar­rived at Na­tional Trea­sury that Thurs­day morn­ing with two ad­vis­ers. How did he ap­point these ad­vis­ers? Since these ad­vis­ers would have had to be placed on the pay­roll of Trea­sury, why did he not con­sult with the ac­count­ing of­fi­cer and, im­por­tantly, how did he ac­quire their ser­vices even be­fore he had been sworn in as a min­is­ter? As a Cabi­net min­is­ter, you would know that the po­si­tion of min­is­te­rial ad­vis­ers is used to help bridge the di­vide in skills be­tween a min­is­ter and his or her de­part­ment. How did Des van Rooyen know what skills were de­fi­cient in the Trea­sury? Also, fol­low­ing his re­de­ploy­ment to the de­part­ment of co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs, these highly spe­cialised ad­vis­ers ac­com­pa­nied him to this de­part­ment. So, who de­ter­mined that their skills were ap­pro­pri­ate for ei­ther as­sign­ment? Or is that not a fac­tor to con­sider, par­tic­u­larly with a port­fo­lio as im­por­tant as fi­nance?

The pic­ture I am sketch­ing for you is that the saga of dis­miss­ing a com­pe­tent min­is­ter and re­plac­ing him with­out warn­ing or ex­pla­na­tion led to a com­plete break­down in trust. It can­not be cor­rect that there is an out­side hand (and not the rul­ing party) that knows more than Cabi­net does about un­fold­ing events. If the views ex­pressed by min­is­ters in the post-Cabi­net brief­ing are cor­rect – and I have no rea­son to doubt this – the events of the pre­vi­ous day shook the trust of the Cabi­net col­lec­tive at its roots. If this view holds, the trust is not bro­ken only with Cabi­net, of course. It is also bro­ken with the ANC, with the broader South African elec­torate, with the mar­kets and with that en­tity you call “busi­ness”. The breach of trust was not the first, but per­haps the last, straw that broke the camel’s back in the care­less han­dling of a piv­otal port­fo­lio.

Please help us by ex­plain­ing how we might re­pair the trust, the le­git­i­macy and, if you must, the obe­di­ence of the gov­erned. In my lim­ited view, it is pos­si­ble for au­to­crats to rule, but not for democrats to gov­ern with­out the vi­tal in­gre­di­ent of trust.

Com­radely greet­ings, Trevor Manuel

PHOTO: LISA HNA­TOW­ICZ / LINDA MTHOMBENI / LEANNE STANDER

BUSI­NESS AND POL­I­TICS From left: David ‘Des’ van Rooyen, who re­placed Nh­lanhla Nene as fi­nance min­is­ter for four days; Small Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Lindiwe Zulu; and for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene

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