Manuel hints at ‘outside hand’ in Nene dismissal
Former finance Minister Trevor Manuel has appeared to hint that an “outside hand” was involved in Nhlanhla Nene’s dismissal from the same position.
“It cannot be correct that there is an outside hand (and not the ruling party) that knows more than Cabinet does about unfolding events,” said Manuel in an open letter addressed to Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, and published in the City Press newspaper on Sunday.
“From what I have heard, the removal of Mr Nene, from his position both as minister of finance and as a Cabinet minister came as a complete shock to too many,” said Manuel.
During a Cabinet briefing on December 9 no mention was made of the impending removal of Nene. About two hours later, President Jacob Zuma issued a statement, announcing his decision to remove Nene as finance minister and replace him with the relatively unknown David ‘Des’ Van Rooyen. The move sent shockwaves through the country and resulted in the rand plummeting.
Two days after Nene’s removal, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told reporters that Cabinet had been in the dark regarding the sacking. “At the conclusion of the Cabinet meeting, there was no new finance minister and there was no way we could have predicted,” Radebe said. “I don’t think Cabinet had an idea that there was going to be a reshuffle because this was the president’s prerogative,” he said.
Manuel, said that what was made “clear from comments by Cabinet colleagues in the wake of Mr Nene’s dismissal was that when cabinet adjourned at about 6pm on Wednesday, December 9, neither he nor Cabinet had any inkling of what was to follow that evening.”
Manuel said that if appeared as if the dismissal of Nene “shook the trust of the Cabinet collective at its roots”. “The saga of dismissing a competent minister and replacing him without warning or explanation led to a complete breakdown in trust… If the view holds, the trust is not broken only with Cabinet of course; it is also broken with the ANC, with the broader South African electorate, with the markets and the entity you call ‘business’,” said Manuel, addressing Zulu directly. “The breach of trust was not the first, but perhaps the last, straw that broke the camel’s back in the careless handling of a pivotal portfolio.”
Manuel also pointed out that it was curious that in a Saturday Star report, published shortly after Van Rooyen’s appointment, both his brother and a childhood friend Gaddafi Rabotapi suggested that they had previous knowledge of his impending appointment. At the time, Rabotapi told the newspaper that he had known about the appointment for some months. “What entitled Mr Rabotapi, as a nonmember of Cabinet to know this?” asked Manuel.
Manuel also pointed out that when Van Rooyen arrived at Treasury, a day after his appointment was announced, he already had two advisers with him. “How did he acquire their services even before he had been sworn in as minister?”
Although at first, following Nene’s sacking, the Presidency issued a statement saying that Zuma was not obliged to give a reason, it later backtracked with a statement by Zuma explaining that the removal of Nene was so that he could be put forward for a position at the Brics Bank.
However, in his open letter, Manuel dismissed this reasoning: “The suggestion by the president that Mr Nene was destined for some undefined post in the New Development Bank just does not wash. “In fact, that assignment is unlikely to be even 15 percent of the size that which he so ably performed as minister of finance.”
While Manuel praised Nene as “thoroughly decent, smart, diligent and more than capable”, he suggested Van Rooyen was somewhat forgettable. “Even I, as an MP for the period he served in Parliament from 2009–2014, when he was my fellow ANC member, battled to recall who he was.”
As such, said Manuel, “subsequent attempts by various people in the ANC to justify his appointment as that of a rising star… fall flat” and consequently “the issue of contention and disbelief was never about having Mr Van Rooyen, it was about the summary dismissal of Mr Nene”. Four days after his appointment, Van Rooyen was removed from his new position by Zuma and replaced with previous finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
Last week, ANC veteran Barbara Hogan called on the party’s members to speak out against the decision. “If ANC members are worth their salt, they have to start looking very carefully and introspectively… about our roles in this organisation and what we are giving consent to by allowing this president to operate as though he is completely unaccountable… Luthuli House needs to hear loud and clear that this man has to be held to account and we need people, men and women of good standing and stature, to do that job.”
In his letter, Manuel said that until now he had chosen to decline commenting on the shuffling of finance ministers. “It is not that I’ve not had opinions, but I chose to remain silent.” Manuel criticised Zulu for what he termed “reckless comments” she made to the Mail & Guardian newspaper this week, in which she seemed to lay blame at business for their lack of support for Zuma following the ministry reshuffling and the subsequent economic fallout.
“Business wrote off President Jacob Zuma a long time ago. They long decided that this is the person they don’t want,” she was quoted as saying. She later told EWN that she had been quoted out of context.
However, Manuel counteracted suggesting that Zulu was “plainly wrong in your assumptions about the roles, responsibilities and attitudes of business”. He said that the path forward was to “repair the trust, the legitimacy, and, if you must, the obedience of the governed. In my limited view, it is possible for autocrats to rule, but not for democrats to govern without the vital ingredient of trust.”
Manuel ended his letter with “comradely greetings”. – © News24