The government has rallied behind Jimmy Manyi, saying he would continue as its spokesman and should be “given an opportunity to prove himself in his new role”.
Manyi’s political boss, Collins Chabane, the Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring, said in a statement on Tuesday he had “confidence” in Manyi’s ability to do his job.
The ANC’s about-turn came after a meeting on Monday of its top leaders in the national working committee, of which Chabane is a member, but Manuel not.
The party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, told journalists at a briefing in Johannesburg yesterday on the meeting that Manyi’s detractors were people with “a hatred for change”.
He also blamed “racial prejudice” for the raging debate over whether the Gupta family had undue influence over government ministers.
The ANC initially distanced itself from Manyi’s comments, made in a television show last year in his capacity as labour director-general, that coloured people were in “over-supply” and “over-concentrated” in the Western Cape.
He apologised after complaints from the party in the province, where the ANC is struggling to regain support ahead of the May 18 local government elections.
But on Tuesday the ANC took Manyi’s side in the wake of Manuel’s open letter last week, which he wrote in his personal capacity and in which he slammed Manyi for being a “worst-order racist”.
Manuel implied that Manyi’s apology, made through his deputy Vusi Mona, was insincere.
Mantashe said on Tuesday Manyi’s detractors seemed convinced that “everything he touches, smells”.
He said calls from municipal trade union Samwu for Manyi to resign were “misleading” because “up to now nobody has raised the question of incompetence of Jimmy Manyi”.
Manyi, who is also president of the Black Management Forum, has been dogged by controversy since his appointment last month, with questions remaining about his alleged abuse of his previous position as labour director-general to benefit private business interests during a meeting with Norwegian diplomats.
Mantashe said Manyi’s detractors were “irritated”.
“In my own view I think it is a question of hatred for change, because when there is a change process, people who are strong and raising issues about transformation will not be liked by everybody because these are painful issues.
“They deal with racial prejudices that are historic in this country, therefore it is not just racial prejudices, it is also stereotypes,” he said.
On the same score Mantashe said people like Manuel and former ANC Western Cape chairman James Ngculu, who came out in defence of Manuel this week, should “stop and refrain from behaving as if they are free agents who speak as individuals, reflecting comments that are not informed by policy”.
Mantashe said if everybody in the ANC were allowed to speak out, “you might as well not have an organisation”.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said he was surprised Mantashe was defending Manyi now, but the labour federation stood by its condemnation of Manyi’s statements with regard to amendments to the Employment Equity Act, which could see coloured people in the Western Cape out of jobs if national demographics were applied to employment quotas.
“We stand by our position, but we are not anti-transformation,” he said.
The issue is expected to be raised at the party’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting which starts on Friday. It was not clear yesterday whether the ANC in the Western Cape would take issue with Mantashe’s comments.
Manuel’s chief of staff, Dumisa Jebe, did not react to a request for comment yesterday.
Political analyst Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said it was unlikely that Manuel would be made to resign, as he had neither been asked to apologise nor hauled before a disciplinary committee.
Asked whether he thought the government and the ANC’s backing for Manyi left Manuel with no other option, Friedman said: “The ANC does not operate on that basis.”
He said if the party had denounced Manuel that would have changed things, but “the only strategy they now have is to be nice to everybody”.
He said the party was merely “putting out fires” ahead of the local elections in May.
Mantashe also said the influence of the Gupta brothers, who have business partnerships with, among others, President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, was “not the issue”.
The Gupta family is reported to have invited Zuma and ministers to their Saxonwold, Johannesburg, home, and ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, in an apparent reference to the brothers, recently slammed high-ranking families who benefited in business from their political connections.
“What we agreed to do in future is to deal with the influence of business generally into politics,” Mantashe said.
“It is not only about the Gupta family.”
He said there were other businesspeople who were also said to try to influence the government.
“In future we should deal with the issue, not deal with a family.”
He said it was not reported as an issue when predominantly white companies like Anglo American and Exxaro partnered with black business partners, “but when it’s the Guptas it is a big deal” because “it is an Indian company and because its owners are not white enough to partner with black economic empowerment partners”.
He said this issue was also likely to arise if Chinese owners partnered with local black partners.
The candidate lists for the local government elections would be the main issue at this weekend’s meeting, he said. – Political Bureau