"The Constitution empowers and enables, but beyond that, actual change requires human actions," he said on Monday evening.
Manuel was addressing the opening session of a conference titled "Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality – Towards Carnegie III" at the University of Cape Town.
He said the Constitution provided South Africans with the values that bound them and enabled them.
Policy could also not be blamed for hampering transformation.
"Policy should guide and provide a framework for evaluating the progress of actions by people. Policy documents do not suddenly assume the ability to walk, talk and act – they only guide."
Elements of policy
Manuel said it was important to realise how different elements of policy intersected and mutually reinforced each other.
"Too often the economic policy discussion ends with slogans about macroeconomics, and all this does is to warn the listener that we have not matured sufficiently to understand that transformation is only possible in an environment of stability created by sound macroeconomic policies.
"And that change comes from advancing the implementation of rational, progressive social and microeconomic policies."
The government was not solely responsible for the transformation of South Africa.
"Whilst government should never be allowed to devolve its responsibility, the process is actually a bit more complex," Manuel said.
Transformation from interaction
The National Planning Commission was of the view that transformation occurred when a number of agencies interact.
"The first, and perhaps the most important of these is an active citizenry – a nation whose conscience is vested in the ordinary women and men who comprise and who act in their own and in the national interest – they cannot outsource this responsibility to government."
Manuel said the second agency was leadership.
"When we speak of leadership, we counter the notion of the 'big man'. Our model of leadership is one that involves tens of thousands of active citizens who take initiative, in the common interest."
The third agency for change is an effective government at local, provincial and national levels.
"An effective government is responsive to the needs of its people, in its listening, policy priorities and allocation of resources."
Manuel said transformation would not be possible without the close interaction of these three agencies.
The University of Cape Town, with the support of the National Planning Commission, is holding a conference to stimulate deeper thinking about strategies to overcome poverty and inequality in South Africa.
This is seen as the first stage of the third Carnegie inquiry in this country. Manuel said 304 papers had already been submitted for discussion.
The first Carnegie inquiry into poverty in South Africa was published in 1932 and focused on the "poor white" problem "and, as a consequence, entrenched the poor black problem", Manuel said.
The second Carnegie Report on poverty in South Africa was produced in 1984 by Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele. – Sapa