President Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Jimmy Manyi as the head of government communications gives the controversial president of the Black Management Forum (BMF) almost unfettered access to commercially sensitive information.
This comes on top of an unresolved allegation — denied by Manyi — that he abused his previous position as director general of labour to tout for business.
Manyi also chairs the BMF’s business arm, the Black Management Forum Investment Company (BMFI), which has heightened concerns about his ability to avoid conflicts of interest.
The BMFI has wide-ranging interests, many of which are heavily regulated by the government and include companies involved in gambling, transport infrastructure, property development, procurement management and construction.
As the government scrambled to defend his appointment, the minister delegated to respond to media queries, public services boss Richard Baloyi, said this week that he was not aware of Manyi’s role in the forum’s investment company.
Baloyi also struggled to explain why the disciplinary process brought against Manyi by former labour minister Membatisi Mdladlana was dropped, or how Manyi remained employed after Mdladlana reportedly fired him shortly before his own dismissal in President Jacob Zuma’s October Cabinet reshuffle.
Manyi was suspended as labour director general in June last year following a formal complaint by Norwegian ambassador Tor Christian-Hilda that Manyi used an official meeting to tout for personal business.
At the time Christian-Hilda would not discuss details but said: “There were certain things discussed and the way in which they were brought up in that meeting we did not appreciate.”
Manyi dismissed the claims and told the Times newspaper: “I do not have a business to promote.”
However, the allegations were serious enough for Mdladlana to suspend him on June 4 and begin disciplinary procedures.
It appears that these were subsequently dropped without a hearing and Mdladlana and Baloyi have given very different explanations for it.
In an interview in early November after he himself had been dismissed as minister by Zuma, Mdladlana was quoted by the Saturday Star as saying that the charges had not been dropped.
“Manyi is going around saying charges have been dropped. That shows a lack of understanding of the law. He still has a case to answer. If he feels that he is innocent, let it be proved by the disciplinary hearing.”
Mdladlana did not return calls seeking clarification this week.
But Baloyi claimed that, although charges were initiated against Manyi by Mdladlana, resulting in a short suspension on full pay, they were also withdrawn by Mdladlana, shortly before the Cabinet reshuffle that cost Mdladlana his job on October 31 last year.
According to Baloyi, once the charges were withdrawn, “the cloud of impropriety” over Manyi’s head disappeared.
But a source familiar with the unfolding legal drama at the time told the Mail & Guardian that Mdladlana had withdrawn the charges only because he had seen an opportunity to dismiss Manyi without a hearing and had fired him.
Manyi then aborted a legal challenge that he had been preparing and told people close to him that a “political solution” would be found.
A well-placed government source said this week that the solution appeared to be to let Manyi return to his job.
But Mildred Olifant, Mdladlana’s replacement, wanted to choose her own director general, which meant that Manyi remained on “special leave” until he could be deployed elsewhere.
Baloyi confirmed that he had intervened and facilitated Manyi’s transfer to head the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) as part of a larger reshuffle.
According to Baloyi, the entire process was “above board” and he denied being placed under political pressure to appoint Manyi as chief government spokesperson.
He refused to comment on the nature of the charges against Manyi but said that they were related to “an allegation of misconduct” that the former minister felt Manyi should answer.
Baloyi denied having seen the letter that the Norwegians reportedly sent to Mdladlana about Manyi, but said that if such a complaint was “brought before him”, he would deal with it.
Asked about Manyi’s directorships, his role as chairperson of the BMFI and conflicts of interest, Baloyi said he was not aware of these.
But, if evidence was brought to him, he, the Public Service Commission and Collins Chabane, the GCIS’s line function minister, would have to assess each case and “manage” it.
Earlier claims by the government that Manyi’s appointment posed no conflict are thin given the considerable extent of his business interests and obligations.
In his capacity as the BMFI chairperson he has a duty to advance its interests, including in sectors where the government plays a policy, political and investment role.
According to the BMFI, its strategic investments include a 20% stake in the Strategic Partners Group, which in turn has an interest in the Bombela Consortium responsible for the Gautrain project; a 25% stake in Matlapeng Holdings, with a stake in Raubex Construction and Hernic; a 26% stake in Computershare SA; a 10% stake in Uthingo Management Services, the past manager of the national lottery; a 10% stake in CKS Investments; and a 3% stake in Gold Reef Resorts.
Manyi is also listed as a director of Promanet and Computershare SA, in which the BMFI had, or still has, shares.
Manyi did not respond to detailed questions, saying only: “Responding to your questions will be externalising our internal processes. It would not be desirable for me to respond to these questions. My role is to communicate government information and not to turn myself into the story.”
This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.