manuel faces upHILL battle

PLAINNING TIME: President Jacob Zuma, Trevor Manuel and Steyn Speed at a meeting with the premiers of all nine provinces and executive mayors of five of the six metropolitan councils. Pic: ELIZABETH SEJAKE. 12/08/2009. © Sunday Times.
PLAINNING TIME: President Jacob Zuma, Trevor Manuel and Steyn Speed at a meeting with the premiers of all nine provinces and executive mayors of five of the six metropolitan councils. Pic: ELIZABETH SEJAKE. 12/08/2009. © Sunday Times.

TREVOR Manuel's position in President Jacob Zuma's cabinet was always going to be a bone of contention, especially since it was Cosatu and the SACP that proposed the setting up of the National Planning Commission.

The only surprise was that Zuma resisted being be pushed to appoint a populist or a Cosatu candidate.

Instead he brought in the former finance minister who was vilified by Cosatu for driving South Africa's effective but unpopular macro-economic strategy, the growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) strategy.

He was also part of former president Thabo Mbeki's inner circle - the so-called "1996 class project" that Cosatu and the SACP dethroned in Polokwane.

In Zuma's cabinet his job is to drive a national planning programme that seeks to align the country's multi-billion rand capital investment programmes with the government's desire to create jobs and alleviate poverty.

Manuel told Sowetan recently that his job goes beyond talking about billions of rands, "we are talking about trillions of rands".

It goes beyond the R385billion sought by Eskom for its expansion programme.

Manuel talks about trillions of rands to finance home-grown solutions to South Africa's energy problems in the long term.

In the interview Manuel gave examples of various huge projects that have the potential to pluck this country out of its Third World status into a First World economy.

He said the biggest challenge to any national planning strategy would be funding and so I asked him: "If you are not creating something similar to former president Thabo Mbeki's presidential advisory council with accomplished international businessmen on board, how do you plan to fund your programmes and get a buy-in from foreign investors?"

He said: "It is a fact now, especially in the light of the global financial crisis, that South Africans should learn to finance their own projects."

Own resources

He said it would be Zuma's job to drive the message home that the country needs to invest in development programmes if it were to progress from being a developing country to a developed country.

"It is also important to note that we would like to see a government that functions in such a way that the brightest and best of South Africans work in the public sector," Manuel said.

Releasing his Green Paper on National Strategic Planning for public discourse, Manuel said the government also sought to address apartheid-era spatial planning, which resulted in black townships on the outskirts of major cities where Africans lived far from the CBDs and therefore, far away from job opportunities.

Democratic South Africa has fallen into the same trap by building RDP houses away from the cities, away from white-dominated suburbs and thereby creating modern-day ghettos.

But Manuel's plans have just hit a glitch with Cosatu calling for a complete overhaul of the National Planning Commission and branding Manuel a de facto "prime minister".

Cosatu accused Manuel of using his position as a personal fiefdom and of trying to create his own "kitchen cabinet".

During Cosatu's national general congress last week, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi accused Manuel of perpetrating a style of leadership that was common during the Mbeki years, when ministers marginalised Cosatu and the SACP and formulated policies without consulting members of the ruling tripartite alliance.

"We are opposed to the fragmentation of the state through building of fiefdoms or kitchen cabinets within the state.

"For that reason, we call for the withdrawal of the Green Paper on Strategic Planning.

"That said, Cosatu is not opposed to a discussion that clearly articulates a coherent planning process and machinery to ensure an effective state.

"We object to the marginalisation of the alliance and other key ministries in shaping this policy intervention prior to its public release."

During the congress, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe chastised Cosatu leaders for attacking individual ministers in Zuma's government, saying the critics should not isolate individuals like Manuel from the rest of the government


"Our view was that the federation has acted like it is dealing with individuals. We must always be wary of articulating ourselves in a way that triggers isolation of those cadres," he said.

"Our understanding is that once comrades are deployed into structures, they will participate in those structures and be loyal to the decisions they take in those structures."

He said Manuel's job came from a proposal by Nedlac, which produced the paper on South Africa's response to the global economic crisis.

"The alliance agreed on setting up a strong national planning commission and that does not mean turning the commission into a super ministry or into some imperialist prime minister."

It is not clear whether Zuma wILL be prepared to fight for Manuel, possibly at the expense of his chance to secure a second term as South Africa's president.

So far - in the Zuma era - Cosatu has won every battle it has waged against the government or powerful figures in government, with its latest victory being the departure of Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni.