/ 3 February 2011

Will Manyi be bigger news than the story?

Will Manyi Be Bigger News Than The Story?

New government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi runs the risk of being bigger news than the story he conveys and undermining the post with his continued presidency of the Black Management Forum (BMF), commentators said on Thursday.

Wits media school head Professor Anton Harber warned that Manyi could fall foul of the primary rule of communications that the spokesperson should never become the story himself, as had happened with British spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

“Manyi himself has hogged the headlines in whatever job he holds, and if there is one rule for a spokesperson, it is that you cannot do the job if you become the story yourself, deflecting interest away from the story you have to tell,” said Harber.

He and political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi agreed that Manyi’s dual role as head of the BMF was a potential source of trouble.

It caused controversy while he was director general of the labour department and bedevilled his relationship with former labour minister Membathisi Mdladlana, who suspended and eventually sacked him.

‘Continued tension’
The matter came to a head last year when the Norwegian ambassador formally complained that Manyi had used an official meeting to promote his private interests.

“There is going to be continued tension between his role as BMF president and his position as chief spokesman,” said Matshiqi.

“Some might argue that this tension is going to deepen given his profile and the issues he will be dealing with as chief government spokesman.”

Harber said Manyi would have to bury the lingering accusation that he abused his position to secure an empowerment deal, because as spokesperson he needed a “squeaky clean” reputation.

Manyi’s appointment and his departure from the labour department overshadowed all other issues at the fortnightly Cabinet media briefing on Thursday.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said the complaint from the Norwegian embassy was not considered when it was decided to replace trusted government spokesperson Themba Maseko with Manyi

“Obviously, if there is no case proffered against Mr Manyi … our employment cannot be determined by anyone else except by the rules we have in government,” Chabane said.

Case ‘neither here nor there’
“The case against Mr M is neither here nor there for now.”

Chabane said he saw “no conflict” in Manyi heading both the BMF and the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS).

“It is not an issue we discussed … If any issue which arises along the course of the work we are going to deal with it as it comes, but as we stand now there is no conflict at all.”

The Norwegian charge d’affaires May-Elin Stener said on Thursday that the embassy had not pursued its complaint after Mdladlana met the ambassador in May last year, listened to his concerns and undertook to take it further with Manyi.

It is widely believed that the incident ended Manyi’s tenure as director general.

Manyi appealed to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to be reinstated in his post after Mdladlana was replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle last October, but was instead placed on special leave, which came to an end on Wednesday.

Matshiqi said the surprise move may have been the government’s way of giving Manyi a new job with the same status without redeploying him to a position in which he would be responsible for policy implementation.

“Moving him to another department was not something they desired given what happened in his previous position. So they have taken him out of the hard core of government business, [to] where he does not have a direct role.”

Manyi himself would not confirm how and when he left the labour department, saying he did not want to comment on “that saga”.

Commentators and government insiders dismissed rumours that Maseko’s exit from GCIS after four years as chief spokesperson was related to infighting on how to handle media queries on former president Nelson Mandela’s health scare.

Said Matshiqi: “I don’t think he was moved because of the communications debacle of last week. I do buy the argument that after four years at the head of GCIS he got tired.”

Maseko has been appointed director general of the department of public service and administration.

President Jacob Zuma thanked him for a job well done at GCIS.

“Themba Maseko’s efficiency as well as his affable and humble nature saw him cement relations with the media fraternity, thereby greatly improving relations between the media and government in the process,” he said.

Zuma expressed confidence that Manyi would handle the job “diligently and effectively”.

The BMF welcomed the appointment and said it exonerated Manyi from allegations of misconduct.

“The appointment of Manyi to the highest office in the country is vindication of the BMF’s confidence and belief in the innocence of its president following allegations of impropriety,” BMF deputy president Tembakazi Mnyaka said. – Sapa