Perhaps a better year will sweeten Manuel

Planning Minister Trevor Manuel did not have a good first year in the government of President Jacob Zuma.

In the Thabo Mbeki era he was the envy of men, a man on whom the country’s media and business establishment had a not-so-secret crush. He was the man you wanted to be or be with. But going from the finance minister to a minister with no clear mandate or powers took its toll on Manuel’s political career.

Locked up in the Union Buildings, Manuel slaved away, putting together a team to do long-term planning as his new position demanded. But when he emerged late last year with a Green Paper outlining his plans, the fairy tale came to an abrupt end.

Cosatu publicly voiced its dismay at the plans presented in the document, effectively sending Manuel back to the drawing board, to emerge finally with a document that is less likely to give offence.

But it was not only in political circles that Manuel’s star began to wane. A one-time media darling who could seemingly do no wrong, in the past year his relationship with the hack pack has taken a dunking. The fabled Trevor Manuel charm tap, it seemed, had dried up.

Last week, shortly before the budget vote of the presidency in Parliament, he openly attacked a journalist at a press conference.

Taking a harsh tone (in his own words, an “angry”) Manuel refused to answer Anna Majavu of the Sowetan when she asked for his comment on Cosatu’s criticism of his national planning commissioners.

“Was that statement [by Cosatu] endorsed by the central committee or was it a spokesperson who sat in a car park [typing a statement] and not knowing what’s going on in the world outside?”

For a moment the group of reporters was confused: Was Manuel saying that a statement by an official spokesperson was invalid or was he just making an ill-informed joke about Cosatu spin doctor Patrick Craven? The answer soon became clear: “I’m not going to answer your question,” a visibly shaking Manuel told Majavu. No laughing matter for him, then.

The success and the power of the national planning committee may help him get back on the political track.

He insisted to reporters that the “organisation has status, because the president gave it status”.

To show how the committee would flex its muscles, he reminded reporters of how Zuma told it not to pander to the executive. “And I will need no second invitation,” he said.

Manuel also made it clear that other groups, such as the expert panel formed by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, which includes World Bank guru Joseph Stiglitz, will prove no threat to his committee. “If there are other clubs or societies that exist, let them exist.”

And maybe, if the national planning committee is given real power and is allowed to make real interventions, Manuel’s second year in the Zuma government will be a bit more bearable.

For him and us hacks alike.

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Mandy Rossouw
Guest Author

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