/ 4 March 2011

Manuel’s clarion call

Trevor Manuel spoke at length to newspaper and broadcast editors on Wednesday night about the work of the national planning commission, which, if the rest of government listens, will provide some urgently needed policy vision to a drifting Cabinet.

The minister in the presidency spoke off the record, because the work of the commission isn’t felt to be ready for prime time, but it is widely known that one area of focus for commissioners is the importance of forging a shared set of national values and of overcoming our toxic race politics.

So Manuel wasn’t departing much from the work of the commission when he was asked about his angry open letter to chief government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and made a point of going on record to explain why he had written it.

“The Constitution,” he said, “was not forced on a reluctant liberation movement.” On the contrary, it had its genesis in work begun by Oliver Tambo in 1987. “When you forget constitutional principles, or throw them overboard, someone has to sound the wake-up call,” he said.

Manuel went on to draw on the non-racialism of the opening lines of the Freedom Charter: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”, and its resonant conclusion: “We shall fight together side by side until we have won our freedom.”

Manuel is clearly viscerally angry about Manyi’s remarks and it is reasonable to assume that he is worried about their impact on the electoral landscape in the Western Cape, but these remarks take the discussion to a different register.

He wants us to see Manyi’s remarks about an “oversupply” of coloured people as an affront to ANC principles, to shared constitutional values and, ultimately, to the vision of a more united, prosperous and equitable country.

All this amounts to saying that the chief articulator of government policy has attitudes that are fundamentally in conflict with that policy. Don’t forget, Manyi reports to the other minister in the presidency — Collins Chabane.

Even his staunchest supporters must recognise that his position is untenable and he must tender his resignation. It will then be up to Chabane and President Jacob Zuma to show us how well they know the Constitution and the Freedom Charter.

To read the first half of the editorial (Crude attack on protector), click here.