Who’s the boss? Manuel vs Mantashe

President Jacob Zuma promised an open and consultative style of leadership. In the first few weeks of his presidency, he has allowed ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe to take charge in Luthuli House. On the other hand, the influence of Planning Minister Trevor Manuel has been palpable, in both Zuma’s state of the nation speech and also in his economic pronouncements.

Some Polokwane resolutions that were expected to become policy have been neglected by Zuma, reflecting Manuel’s careful approach to public spending.

Zuma has been silent on resolutions such as extending the qualifying age for child-support grants to 18 and extending free education to undergraduate level. He also has not responded to calls for bailouts from companies under strain.

On the other hand, Mantashe has defended non-performing state companies and heeded a call by Cosatu to ask government ministers to explain the delay in the implementation of better salary packages for doctors.

Although there has been no public confrontation between the two men over policy, it is clear that each is steering Zuma in a different direction.

Observers say that if he continues to take a hands-off, ceremonial approach, the nitty-gritty of running the country and the ANC would be left to Manuel and Mantashe, a situation that could result in a renewed debate on two centres of power.

Gwede Mantashe
The ANC secretary general is using his platform as the boss of Luthuli House to ensure that the party remains the centre of power.

After running an effective election campaign that left the ANC just shy of two-thirds of the vote, Mantashe continued to put his stamp on government by playing the main role in appointing Cabinet ministers and premiers.

With the centre of power squarely back in Luthuli House after Polokwane, Mantashe is both the gatekeeper and the executor of that power.

An alliance leader says that Mantashe is central to the stability of the alliance, which is led by the ANC and therefore effectively by him. He is considered to be ”frank and forthright”, and is unafraid of putting issues on the table.

In one of his recent interventions, he called government ministers and the unions to Luthuli House to sort out obstacles to the occupation-specific dispensation for professionals.

He also carpeted Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan recently over her threats to shut down non-performing state enterprises — even though it was pointed out to him that Hogan’s comment was in line with the Polokwane resolution on the matter, which said enterprises that are ”financially viable” will be kept afloat.

An alliance leader confirmed that Mantashe sees himself as the hands-on leader in the party while Zuma plays a role that is more ceremonial: ”[Mantashe] doesn’t fudge it, which is good for the alliance. There is a deployment committee, but ultimately deployees report to the officials, so effectively to him. Zuma, as the president, would not get into the nuts and bolts stuff — that’s Gwede’s job.”

Mantashe, who also serves as SACP chairperson cut his political teeth in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) — ”the training ground of intellectuals” in the ANC. He holds an economics degree from Unisa and a master’s degree from the University of the Witwatersrand.

”During the strikes at NUM his office was converted to a ‘war room’ from which the strikes could be managed on shaft-level,” an insider said.

Mantashe sees the role of the party as keeping government in check. But some in business do not share this view, seeing his commitment to deployment as a flaw.

”Many people in business don’t believe in deployment because it means a lack of accountability,” said a key business leader.

Mantashe’s role is also confusing to the business world. ”At the moment it is not clear who is running the country, because it is definitely not the president,” the business leader said.

Eskom chair Bobby Godsell, who worked with Mantashe at Anglo American and as part of the Jipsa skills development task team, says he is very tactical and strategic. ”He could both embrace the vision and understand the current realities, and then he wanted to build a bridge between the two.”

Trevor Manuel
The planning commission minister might be the labour movement’s number one enemy, but the former finance minister has undoubtedly become one of Zuma’s most trusted allies in the new administration.

Contrary to the earlier belief that his powers were clipped when he was removed from the finance ministry, Manuel’s influence on government’s policy direction under Zuma is increasingly being felt. Insiders say Zuma’s inclusive approach to decision-making is putting Manuel in the pound seats as the first person Zuma turns to for help on matters relating to economy and budgeting.

After the departure of former president Thabo Mbeki Manuel played an instrumental role in drafting the state of the nation address delivered by then president Kgalema Motlanthe. ”Trevor wanted to make an input there and he was allowed to because he worked more closely with Kgalema than with Mbeki,” an insider close to Manuel said. ”If you look at that speech carefully, you’ll see a lot of things are the same as the budget speech. It was the same with Zuma’s state of the nation. Mbeki would ask for inputs but then simply ignore them.”

Zuma is said to rely heavily on Manuel’s experience because many Cabinet ministers are new to government and couldn’t hit the ground running the way Manuel could. ”Trevor has the experience that others lack,” the insider said. ”For economic issues he is the one that JZ would turn to. The other minister, Collins Chabane, plays more of an administrative role, while Trevor’s is more advisory.”

Political observers within the ANC and the government point to Zuma’s firm stand on the government’s economic policies as an indication of Manuel’s influence in his new administration. Despite pressure by the left to make radical changes to the current investor-friendly economic policies, Zuma made it clear in the National Assembly that his new administration had no intention of changing the conservative fiscal policies that saw South Africa reduce its budget deficit and control public spending.

Manuel’s influential role has not gone down well within Cosatu. The labour federation’s frustration with Manuel’s power was evident when its central executive committee said it wanted a Cabinet planning committee to keep a close eye on Manuel’s work in the presidency.

A member of Zuma’s executive who preferred to remain anonymous said this week that Manuel was effectively playing the role of prime minister. ”The president sees him as a capable leader who will bring a high degree of discipline in government.

”But his effectiveness as a minister does not necessarily mean the left will agree with him. They see him as an obstacle to their socialist agenda. His statement at the World Economic Forum where he described business as cowards for acceding easily to labour’s demands did not do him any favours. Even though, to my understanding, he was basically saying we need balance between labour and the private sector, this is seen as conservative by the left.”

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Mandy Rossouw
Guest Author
Matuma Letsoala
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