It was a young South African who inspired Trevor Manuel’s shock decision to quit active politics …
… Or more precisely 200 young South Africans; future leaders as chosen by the Mail & Guardian as part of our annual, carefully curated list.
“I spoke this year at the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans event and took a decision as a matter of principle,” Manuel told City Press on Sunday. “It is time for young people to come through the system. I want to try to mentor. I feel there’s a duty to do that now.”
“If everything is a competition, you destroy values [as is being done now]. If this happens, you cannot draw on the skills and expertise [of people who leave after brutal competition]. This was clear at Polokwane,” he said.
His speech in July at the event – the Mail & Guardian’s sixth of its kind – hinted at the decision that had started to take shape in the popular minister’s mind.
“Collectively, we have declared that, by 2030, our generation will be out of play, either to the next life or to the rocking chair, and your generation will be the decision-makers,” he announced to the event’s audience. “Be it in politics, institutions of higher learning, corporations, or just in life, we acknowledge that you will be the decision-makers.”
Reactions to his decision
Manuel’s decision to quit the ANC national executive committee – the highest decision-making body in the party – was met with consternation and disappointment from the public and his colleagues. He has a solid history in the ANC during the struggle and served as finance minister from 1996 to 2009 and has received numerous awards for his leadership and mooted for high profile jobs, like chief of the International Monetary Fund, which he decided not to make himself available for.
The markets took a wobble when he resigned around the Polokwane conference where then-president Thabo Mbeki was ousted, but he subsequently re-joined Cabinet.
But while he was a survivor at Polokwane, he found himself in a party (led by Jacob Zuma) compromised by greed, allegations of serious corruption and tenders gone wrong. In his speech at the Mail & Guardian event, he warned against people getting into power for the wrong reasons.
“I did not join the movement to become a minister,” he said. “Political power was not even on the horizon yet I knew I would probably be arrested and tortured – and that proved correct. So the intention could never have been to realise the lifestyle I now enjoy.”
'Political handover is necessary'
Even Manuel’s detractors lauded the move to quit politics, while still pointing out his flaws. “#Manuel knows when to jump. Defended Arms Deal. Quiet on HIV and Zuma. Failed on corruption. #Mangaung #ANC However, important sign,” tweeted well-known HIV/Aids activist Zackie Achmat, recalling Manuel’s complicit action in the ANC’s worst moments.
Yet Manuel’s rousing July speech moved on from the past and put the responsibility and power in the hands of South Africa’s youth.
“I believe it is imperative that young people are represented properly. In other words, a political handover to sensible young people is not only advisable, but also necessary.”
And as one for the chosen 200 Young South Africans, Asanda Magaqa, put it: “A lot of elderly South Africans suffer from age-ism, whereas it’s the younger South Africans who should say: ‘Look this is where we would like to see this country go because it is the country we will be running many years down the line.’”