Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel made some poignant points regarding South Africa during his time before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Thursday.
Manuel was called to testify before deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, ostensibly, for several reasons. Firstly, as a consummate political force – one whose ministerial tenure has spanned three presidencies following the dawn of democracy – Manuel has invaluable insight into South Africa’s convoluted political mechanisms.
Trevor Manuel on State Capture
In 2009, following a largely successful career as Finance
Minister, Manuel was appointed as Minister in the Presidency for the National
Planning Commission. This appointment coincided with former president Jacob
Zuma’s ascension to the throne. Manuel would stick with it for five years – what
he witnessed during that time would come to the fore during his testimony
before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
Manuel, who has denied having any connection to the infamous Gupta clan, spoke on the Indian brothers’ undue influence on Fikile Mbalula, who, at the time, was a political lightweight. In 2017, free of the fierce political arena, Manuel penned a letter to Mbalula. In his address, which was published by the Daily Maverick, Manuel reminded Mbalula of events which took place during the African National Congress’ (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in 2009, saying:
“There, the Fikile Mbalula we once knew wept as he spoke. He explained he’d been called to Saxonwold by the Guptas in May 2009 and was told that he was being promoted from the position of Deputy Minister of Police to Minister of Sport. A few days later the President confirmed this change.”
It was on the basis of this engagement – which was later rebuffed by Mbalula – that Manuel was called to testify before Zondo. During his time in the hot seat, a composed Manuel waxed lyrical on South Africa’s sordid state of affairs – pontificating on the broader issue of State Capture. While most of the testimony related to Mbalula and the Guptas’ political influence, Manuel, speaking from the heart, drew comparisons to the ills which seek to unwind the societal fabric of South Africa.
Problems facing South Africa
The former Finance Minister, who, during the course of his testimony
paused stoically and intermittently as if to gather the right words before proceeding,
touched on the Constitution of South Africa. Manuel’s faith in the Constitution,
unwavering yet not uninterrogated, embattled only by the lack of proper
application. Manuel explained:
“The question is; how does our Constitution protect the vulnerable and create the kind of society that is articulate in the preamble to that Constitution?
How do you say to South Africans that we take seriously the living standards of all citizens and we want to free the potential of each person?
Our commitments made in the Constitution, adopted in May of 1996, ought to be durable. How do you look somebody in the eye and say, ‘your life is better today than it was yesterday’ – because that’s what the Constitution implies.”
No consequences in ‘law of the jungle’
The fundamental purpose of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is to investigate the ills of corruption which have plagued – and may continue to plague – the government of South Africa. Beyond this investigation and protracted process of unpacking is the need for practical accountability. The need for those implicated in wrongdoing – greedy politicians and unscrupulous business people alike – to be brought before the full might of the law.
As rightly pointed out by Manuel during his testimony, the scourge
of corruption, which has drained the lifeblood of South Africa, ultimately embattles
the most vulnerable, leaving the perpetrators largely unscathed. Billions of
rands squandered or siphoned off by crooked cadres and their corporate cohorts manifest
in a breakdown of society – especially with regards to the promises made by government
in terms of service delivery and jobs for all.
Corruption robs ordinary South Africans of their dreams. The
lack of accountability and consequence, as pointed out by Manuel, blights our society
and results in a lawlessness which permeates every crevice. The rule of law
breaks down, exemplified by an old moniker rebuked by executive illustrations:
crime, especially that of government-endorsed corruption, does pay.
Manuel explained that the Commission of Inquiry into State
Capture could be a catalyst for tangible change, if, and only if, Zondo’s recommendations
are to be taken seriously by the South African judiciary. The rule of law needs
to be extended beyond ordinary people to encompass politicians caught in
impropriety, too. Manuel said:
“The system [of government] doesn’t provide the answers we’re looking for.
My own sense is that the State Capture issues should trigger a wider discussion about how we exist as a nation – what matters and what doesn’t matter. From people reporting to be religious leaders, to children who murder a man in the street.
There is something wrong in society and it’s because it appears as if there are no consequences. The word ‘consequences’ has to have particular weight in this judiciary inquiry that looks at what went wrong in the functioning of government.
What’s happened in the past decade imposes an enormous burden on successive generations. We can’t live according to the laws of the jungle – we must empower our public representatives to act appropriately. That is a responsibility that needs a big and repeated call.”