[DEBATE] : (Fwd) FM prediction: bye Trevor
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat Jan 24 05:48:06 GMT 2009
(It's a ghastly book and a dumb review, e.g. covering Alec Marxist Erwin
and Coega, but this is interesting: "there can be little doubt that
after the 2009 election he will be looking for a new role".)
23 January 2009
BOOK OF THE WEEK
How Manuel made the job his own
By Richard Steyn
When Trevor Manuel was made head of the ANC's department of economic
planning (DEP) in 1991, his protest (to the ANC's general secretary,
Cyril Ramaphosa) that he knew nothing about economics was brushed aside.
"I wet myself'," he told biographer Pippa Green with characteristic
To make it worse, he was not well-received within the DEP.
Better-qualified colleagues such as Tito Mboweni and incumbent head Max
Sisulu saw him as a political imposition. But the Cape-born and bred
activist proved a quick study: he learnt on the job and, more
importantly, surrounded himself with good people. Helped by decisions
taken at the ANC's crucial "Ready to Govern" conference and heavily
influenced by the Mont Fleur Scenarios, Manuel went through a "vertical
learning curve", which gave him the confidence to start fixing the
Despite a promising start as minister of trade & industry in Mandela's
government of national unity, Manuel's appointment to succeed Chris
Liebenberg as minister of finance spooked the markets. A long slide in
the value of the rand was averted only after the introduction of Gear, a
policy mix of free-market liberalism and statism that President Thabo
Mbeki and his close advisers had decided were necessary for growth. It
is deeply ironic that a decade later, the same markets were again to
panic when Manuel submitted his resignation.
As Green notes in this well-researched, illuminating and readable
biography, Manuel's success as a politician may be ascribed to his
"rootedness" in the rough-and-tumble of coloured politics. A community
activist from an early age, a leading United Democratic Front (UDF)
organiser in the 1980s, and a man for whom the Afrikaans expression
"hardegat" could have been expressly coined, Manuel in office has proved
to be a mixture of empathy and toughness - ready to listen to opposing
arguments but willing to take unpopular decisions when necessary. An
added strength has been his ability to resist special pleading.
CHOICE, NOT FATE: The Life and Times of Trevor Manuel
By Pippa Green, 602 pages. Penguin: R320
From a historian's point of view, the most valuable aspect of this book
is the light shed on economic policy-making within the ANC-led alliance.
Differing views on economic policy among alliance partners, on one hand,
and a pressing need to reduce the national debt and restore confidence
in the currency, on the other, necessitated the top-down imposition of
Gear. It was more the process by which Gear was foisted upon the nation
(Manuel unwisely declared it to be "non-negotiable") than the substance
of the policy that alienated the labour unions and opened a breach with
Manuel that has not been bridged to this day.
For followers of politics, Choice, Not Fate contains many fascinating
insights into relationships between leading figures in the financial
establishment. There was apparently a deep rift between Manuel and his
deputy at the treasury, Gill Marcus, which neither will talk about
today. And Absa shareholders will no doubt be intrigued to learn that
there is no love lost between Marcus and the bank's newly appointed CEO,
Maria Ramos. Relations between Manuel and Mboweni have also been fraught
at times (most notably over bank supervision), but the two have worked
closely together to co-ordinate fiscal and monetary policy.
The most significant philosophical difference, however, has been between
Manuel and Alec Erwin over the role that state-owned enterprises should
play in economic development. Erwin (backed by Mbeki) has a Marxist's
attitude to the value of big projects such as Coega and arms
procurement. Manuel takes a much more hard-nosed approach, believing
that in a country in which capital is scarce, one has to measure
carefully what one's money buys and not be taken in by false promises.
Another noteworthy relationship - given recent developments - is that
between Manuel and Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota. Working together in the
mid-1980s, the two were deeply involved in mobilising support for the
UDF. The respect that each developed for the other's abilities is
unlikely to have diminished over time.
As 2008 drew to a close, attacks on Manuel from the Left intensified and
there can be little doubt that after the 2009 election he will be
looking for a new role. In a less race-conscious country, he would be a
front-runner for the presidency. Unfortunately, the best one can hope
for is that he is given a position in the next government that makes use
of his experience and does justice to his remarkable talents.
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