Niklos the philosopher holds, ‘To pause is good, to reflect is better to listen is the best, but listening to oneself is most cleansing for it let us in on our own shortcomings the same we oft don’t admit’.
This weekend South Africa in parliament setting paused to bid farewell to a few parliamentarians who have served this nation to varied degrees. South Africa said goodbye to the longest serving Member of Parliament the Scottish flavoured MP who had served for over 40 years. Also among those, not returning to the new parliament is Trevor Manuel.
Since Manual’s farewell address to parliament he has been interviewed by a number of news- agencies and naturally these questions will endeavour manifest a chasm immanent in difference between Manuel and the current ANC leadership. Knowing this it becomes difficult at times to distinguish between what would be a Manual position and what it is that the lusty media will strive to communicate as what he said.
Let me in the beginning unequivocally and irrevocably join the chorus of South Africans from all lifestyles in saying thank you, dankie, baie dankie to Trevor Manuel and others like Kgalema Motlanthe who had come to the end of the terms of serving SA in parliamentary extended services.
Trevor Manuel in the sunset of his political life as determined by himself cautions South Africans in what is ascribed as a fading democracy. This caution is reserved for the ANC as comrades, which off the cuff appears honourable, yet is also not without question for you would have imagined the caution should have been extended to all South Africans because our opposition parties have often proven counter-productive to the democracy so easily claimed as belonging in collective context to all of us.
I had imagined that one of the longest serving ministers in post-apartheid sense to have understood the dynamism of a claim of a fading democracy the same shamefully used by the DA and others for cheap political expediency. After all the same opposition parties sing today Manuel’s praise hence he had earned the right to caution not just the ANC. Unless there is an implied ambivalence in meaning to this caution.
Trevor no more ask us our opinions as he did in ‘Tell Trevor’ budget chats, he tells us today to be cautious that we do not erode the institutions that define democracy.
It is here that I attempt engaging the boy from Kensington, the organiser from Athlone, the UDF young leader who became famous for his yellow T- shirt, faded jeans and full beard, the section 29 prisoner, that became the ANC economics desk head and later, minister in our SA’s first democratic cabinet and all subsequent administrations. He, who travelled the world, maybe became the only South African Minister who can claim to have flown in the now retired Concorde as he discharged his fiduciary mandate.
I think democracy is less a finalised reality but an evolving construct in a developing Nation such as SA. We can ill afford to misread in singularity of appreciation our democracy as only that which ensembles institutions, this is not to downplay the palpable reality of institutions but to contextualise these as evolving. Democracy is not only served in practical reality of meaning as institutional adherence, but inherently affords the right to assess review and critique the very institutions that comfortably assumed the undergarments of our democracy.
Perhaps Manuel neglects to acknowledge that democracy lives when we can call to question the very institutions created in democracy. If we can challenge what we created in theory as it manifests in praxis it need not naturally translate to a confirmation of fading democracy. When we can honestly ask is this institution as led by whoever serving the interest of democracy for the greater good.
Democracy lives when we can flag the potential and possible abuse by those who hold office in the very institutions that inculcates the embodiment of our democracy. My disclaimer upfront I am not a party to those who in recent days attacked the PP, for some or other SABC employee reason.
I shall use the common example of the office of the PP as my example. It is my confirmed conviction that the behaviour of The Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela notwithstanding the overall acknowledged impartial and noteworthy roles played comes mired with the often conflated and egocentric claims of the very Public Protector.
When we celebrate the PP’s work, it cannot be that we are obsessed to present a balance sheet that communicates a decidedly positive tone. One in which we in democracy claim think it correct to deny ourselve the right to challenge in asking if the very office of the PP is not misunderstood and unintentionally made a political face under a Thuli Madonsela distinctly different from her two predecessors, who equally served this institution.
Unless we want to argue that Advocates Selby Baqwa and later Lawrence Mushwana failed the institutions, which I think not. I am one of those who celebrate and yet question her attention for media utterances that sends conflicted realities along political ideological lines. The day we lose the right to question those in power is the day we lost the right to claim the office’s existence.
Could it not be that our democracy in its evolutionary sense militates against us denying the fulcrum of what we deem it to be as salient to the role of both occupier and those outside to respect the very office held.
If Trevor Manuel in his swansong remonstrates, caution it must be considered necessary yet not as gospel from an aloofness of prognostication since we cannot assume democratic institutions designed in evolutionary context is beyond alteration and even redundancy if the necessity of newness of reflection demands that.
In SA, we still have a Reserve Bank that all administrations of post-apartheid making have justified without ever explaining this as neither a necessity nor a must. This institution for some is a necessity in democracy when its relevance, meaning, structure, ownership, and relevance had been questioned for the last 20 years. We thus can conclude there exists a form of truculence on the part of those who know and were integral in our economic definition of post- apartheid economic policy context to engage honestly on this yet they defend this structure. If we therefore condemn the structure of a Reserve Bank as irrelevant, can it be assumed as an attack on democracy?
Is democracy not under threat or a fading reality when the Human Rights Council in 2014 still proves inadequate to effectively prosecute racism? Yes racism the enemy of democracy, if racist citizens of SA can continue and know that they can engage in the dastard acts of racism with no true consequences because the structure to stymie such lack infrastructural incapability, remains in praxis inept at dealing with the bastion of apartheid. Shall we justifiably continue to respect the institution and not ask, for its review and its rethinking? If it does not serve democracy in its protection, why can such a structure not be questioned. You plead we don not attack these institutions for they resemble our constitutional democracy, I say we may not misread our review and critique as an attack as if these structures belong to another era, they are own hence we can critique them and make them redundant if they fail to deliver the democracy we had hoped for.
Every generation earns the right to pensively reflect on the trajectory of history so as to redeem a better future. It is only when we in egoistic sense pursue the celebration of one epoch over another that we do a disservice of our future for history in future affords none a claim of perfection.
If Manuel argues, we must maintain what we have built it naturally must be re-echoed yet it is not an echoing in emptiness of engagement or surrender of right to ask critique and even castigate. We can today condemn GEAR because we have asked its relevance then and we have engaged its meaning for economic redress and have found it wanton in confirmation of critique.
Granted the headlines of some newspapers retorts ‘democracy a fading reality’ as the caption. This we cannot categorically attribute to Manual for anyone that has ever been interviewed, or have written articles for newspapers knows that captions remain the prerogative of the news agencies in publication. We therefore can question the authenticity and veracity of these captions as not necessarily honest or a true reflection of what the person said. However if we hypothetically and momentarily assume Trevor Manuel agrees with the claimed fading of democracy we must necessarily ask him when and from when did this observation derive its genesis? Was this fading democracy a reality when you scored the highest number of votes in Stellenbosch at the ANC Conference of 2002?
If we may establish that, we will be able to engage Manuel and critique him as one who has a prism that attempts dictating what happened before 2007 was glorious and the natural maximum symbol for governance in protection of democratic institution sense. Whilst Trevor Manuel will remain for some the epitome of finance ministry leader, in my assessment his best work was not to balance our books, neither was it just in prudence of managing of the fiscal discipline for which he became known and is perhaps in the minds of some immortalized.
In my assessment, the true success story of Manuel’s contribution is not necessarily financial prudence but the evolving work of the National Development Plan (NDP). It could be argued that his best work yet was to preside over the drafting of the NDP (the first 50-year plan for SA) which was done in this very era where it is claimed democracy is fading.
I at times hope personal political ego’s may step aside and take a backseat when we opine on the state of our nation. It has become too easy and cheap for the likes of former ministers like Ronnie Kasrils to condemn the ANC of 2007 and beyond in which these use their era’s as the ardent symbol of governance in transparency and non- corruption.
We dare not conveniently forget the ills of the eras now adored as the barometer of excellent governance. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to desist romanticising even icons like Mandela in governance. For if we cannot honestly assess and reflect on the good and bad and equal errors of a Mandela in governance in rewarding ill-prepared and incompetent ministers who in a sense failed SA, we have failed to understand the road we have trudged and continues to follow.
Our narrative cannot attempt serving the one dimensional sensationalisation of a Mandela and Mbeki even a 7 month era of Motlanthe at the expense of the era of a Zuma, as some oppositional parties in self-justification of political expediency have in this season found fit. It cannot be that ANC leaders who had the privilege to serve at the highest levels can sound no different to Opposition parties when they also claim an ideological disjuncture.
We must always ask, are we speaking from the clarity of our convictions of objective assessment or the pain of historical experience, the pain of experience whilst a reality can never be our departure point neither or premise if we serious about serving and our legacy of selflessness the same we remind others.
For Manul, we say democracy was under threat when the Arms Deal was deliberated, changes made, approved, defended, and mis-communicated by leaders as our salvation for job creation when it dismally failed us in institutional sense. Democracy was under threat when joint leaders proved less circumspect when they were at the helm of power, in lacking the foresight to understand the challenge of approving this deal, for future meaning.
Democracy was under threat when patronage was birthed and billionaires were created essentially from nothing but political connections. It is a given that people close to power in the era of Mbeki were empowered only because of political connections and thus a precedent was created that today violently protests existence as an economy. How do we explain how former ministers from Mandela onwards became billionaires when these never had any entrepreneurial skills unless political economy and connections is a commodity measured in entrepreneurship?
Democracy was under threat when leaders including you Mr. Manuel failed to prove bold and was perhaps intimidated by a leader-president you served when he made us a HIV/AIDS denialist nation and millions died. We still have to hear you and those who served that administration confide in us why you were silent. We want to hear you condemning of that dastard act at a crucial time in our nation’s health sense. In fact, you who handled the purse strings owe us an explanation. You as civic leader and grassroots person owe us an answer why you could not tell Mbeki at the time Mr. President you are putting the lives of many in precarious position. You were there when the late Minister Msimang as a full minister of Health in democracy advocated beetroot as an antidote for HIV/AIDS. A season when truth absconded and silence became the mainstay of compliance. The late Kader Asmal attempted a perspective in his memoirs on that dark era of our history. If memory serves correct he remains perhaps the only one who challenged Mbeki, for that he was no hero. Chikane shies away from admitting the error and rather wants to explain the conundrum as if we did not live through it.
Democracy was under threat when we agreed on economic platforms like GEAR that at best attempted to way- lay history and make those in power look good. Yes, you balanced the books, yet the administration you served never altered the challenge of economic disparity, which grew in that epoch and now has matured. It proved insensitive to the challenge of economic redress, it proved soft on those who owned the means of production and endorsed the power of those in power when it left the poor poorer and the workers victims until the agony of a Marikana.
Mr. Manue democracy is under threat when the benefactors of that very benefit be it political power or economic because usually these two go together and at times manifests in spouses, can arrogate a right to adjudicate all but themselves as contributing to the faded claim of democracy. I think if democracy is fading it is our common responsibility to firstly own up, and then to ask where did we lose or miss it. It is less in pontificating from an assumed pedestal of importance only claimable in ANC sense.
You rightfully and correctly lament the recall of a sitting president, i concur it was an error we should never repeat. Yet it too is history and very little can now be done no different to all other wrongs we as a collective had made i.e. the arms deal etc. We must grow out of our factional mindsets and find common cause for the people first and the movement second is of more significance than any of us regardless how gifted we may portend. The error of some in this epoch has been to hold on to this error of 2008 as the unpardonable sin until as if the Movement cannot find meaning and purpose from this and many other errors.
In conclusion, enjoy your retirement you have like all of us made your contribution not without mistakes and overruns some grave others less visible. You deserve to opine, because you were afforded to serve notwithstanding your personal shortcomings be it academic or otherwise. You epitomize the ANC, a glorious Movement that can take us as nothings and transform us into significant people that can fly in the Concorde address the wealthy in Davos and serving in institutions such as the World Banks and IMF that have unapologetic and conscious West serving interest as its core, yet for us resemble major achievements. The world stood aghast at your grasp on economic and finance issues at macro level when you hardly had the academic wherewithal to defend your role. Some of gloat because you defied the claim that leaders must come from Harvard a false claim some want to invoke in this era. You proved a willingness to learn from others and thus you became the professor less in academic celebration but in true praxis.
We know the last many years for you were not easy as you became the target of scrutiny in critique of economic policy description. Some blame you for our jobless economy, we all know that is is not correct, the ANC remains to blame for a jobless economy and all its administrations struggled to coherently respond and answer this now confirmed timebomb in youth definition. You came under scrutiny from some who have a right to question all deployed for you are one of many, the very many who must own up to the successes and failures of the ANC in history, present and future. If you share in any sense in the ANC’s successes and power you must equally share in its failures and dualistic dichotomies.
You returning to Mitchells Plain in a sense to your original roots of struggle in the latter years of your political life, potentially honourable for some yet an attempt at self- redemption for others it also is not without some scrutiny. It was here in 1985 where I met you for the first time at Spinedale High, the day we were instructed to disperse two-by-two in the solstice of our student uprise, from where some of us left Cape Town instructed to leave since we were already expelled by Carter Ebrahim and his Coloured Affairs education office. Our next encounter would be the pain of leading a march from Riverlea to lay to rest to rest the late Cadre’s Chris Hani and later Oom Bill Jardine, we joked on who was next. Since then our other co marcher Cadre Awie Williams also has graduated into eternity.
Yet you will be one of those I will always respect as a freedom fighter and leader, yet respect does not mean you are naturally exonerated in blindness of admiration, but you and your era in power, highs and lows, successes and failures shall be scrutinised no different to all before and after you to help us not repeat the same mistakes in organisational or national democratic sense.
As for democracy we are all learning what it means for it makes us all uncomfortable for a plethora of reasons. If we therefore pause to re- think and critique structures we created let it not be misunderstood as an attack but all part of our evolution into a better democracy. South Africa is and remains an evolving nation as the alterations to our constitution attests.
Now enjoy your retirement, it is time to travel the world on your own pocket and laugh at the mistakes and cry over the successes for in the greater scheme you Trevor Manuel were privileged to serve in all spheres of what the ANC and its structures afforded. You were privileged and we were blessed by your humility and equally annoyed by your at times arrogance. Yet you remain our leader, you remain the boy from Kensington, the organiser from Athlone, the RMC member, the Economics desk head at Shell House, and the surprised selection (by your own admission) to Mandela’s cabinet, later our longest serving Finance Minister, befitting as one who lastly chaired our first comprehensive National Plan.
Your life as painful in struggle equally epitomises a fairy-tale in political definition for you do not come from Harvard but from the Cape Flats, it is therefore only to be expected that some for obvious reasons would envy you. For me you are one of us always have been, maybe at times forgetting but you remain one of those worth celebrating. Jimmy Manyi, found out you from the Cape Flats. Again thank you Trevor.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine