What’s ahead for Manyi?

Posted March 7, 2011

By Lee Rondganger

Can he continue in his job? That’s the unavoidable question the political masters of chief government spokesman Jimmy Manyi have to answer. Manyi has been accused of racism by a cabinet minister.

It’s not just a matter of the damage done to the government’s public relations cause, but a question of whether Manyi will ever enjoy the trust and respect of the South African public he is meant to address on the government’s behalf.

Manyi, of course, is no stranger to controversy.

His views on race, affirmative action, employment equity and even Caster Semenya have grabbed the headlines in the past.

If ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is the militant, unpolished, in-your-face populist, Manyi, a big business transformation activist, is his opposite equal – cool, eloquent, educated, but with just as much venom in his bite.

He has been at the centre of controversies over employment equity and skills shortages and is never shy to invoke race in his argument.

But Manyi’s views on the coloured population and its “over-concentration” in the Western Cape have this time got up the nose of National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel, who, in an unprecedented attack, labelled Manyi a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd.

Manyi told reporters last week that his earlier apology – issued in the name of his deputy, Vusi Mona – “still stands”.

“I issued an apology on the matter of the Western Cape – and this apology stands,” he said this week.

Later, the DA would stoke the fire by releasing a video clip of a speech Manyi gave to an audience at the Durban Chamber of Commerce where he said Indians had bargained their way to top positions.

Manyi said the remark had been made in jest and his audience, including many Indians, had laughed.

Manuel’s open letter, published in Independent Newspapers, opened divisions within the ANC and the alliance, with Cosatu coming out firmly in support of Manuel and the ANC Youth League backing Manyi.

Besides calling him a racist, Manuel asked the most pointed of questions, after reminding him that coloured people had been at the forefront of the struggle: “By the way, what did you do in the war Jimmy?”

It is a question Independent Newspapers tried to answer this week, without success.

Neither the Government Communication Information System (GCIS) of which Manyi is CEO, nor the Black Management Forum (BMF), of which Manyi is president, released his CV, with the GCIS saying it did not have an updated version.

Manyi is refusing to comment on Manuel’s attack.

What is known, however, is that before joining the government, Manyi ascended the ranks of some of South Africa’s top companies, including Tiger Brands, where he was the group executive of corporate affairs.

He is a qualified chartered marketer and holds a higher diploma in economic geology and completed a Wits/Harvard Business School executive training programme.

Where Manyi grew up, which high school he attended and his political activities pre-1994 were difficult to establish.

According to his profile from GCIS, Manyi has more than 20 years of corporate experience in mainly blue chip and multinational companies spanning key sectors of the economy, including mining, auto manufacturing, banking, IT, health and food. He has worked for Toyota SA as general manager, Anglo American as a mining and geology professional and IBM as director of corporate affairs.

He is the former chairman of the Commission for Employment Equity, with extensive experience working with the National Development and Labour Council.

Manyi took over as head of GCIS in February after he was axed as labour director-general by former minister Membathisi Mdladlana in November. Mdladlana had suspended Manyi in June after a diplomat reportedly complained he tried to canvass for private business during an official meeting.

He is serving a second term as president of the BMF after fending off an internal revolt last year by a group of “concerned” members who tried to remove him.

Former BMF president Lot Ndlovu said at the time: “Some of us can no longer associate with the president’s impulsive, non-thinking and nonsensical statements… the BMF has, over the past few years, deteriorated in quality and in standing, it is no longer credible.”

Shortly after fending off the revolt, Manyi showed that he had the backing of very influential ANC figures, with cabinet member Fikile Mbalula supporting his leadership.

Supporters and detractors alike say Manyi is highly intelligent and very capable.

“He is not the type of person you want to get into in the battle of wits,” said a former colleague.

However, it is through Manyi’s views on the slow transformation of the economy and employment equity that he has gained notoriety. In 2007 he said the belief that a skills shortage among the black population was delaying employment equity was an “urban legend” and there was, in fact, an under-utilisation of skills.

He blamed racism for this, saying employment equity was not working.

During the Caster Semenya gender saga, Manyi came to her defence, saying: “Because she’s black all kinds of things are coming out now. Why can’t society accept black competence?”

Manyi’s views have divided a large section of the populace. Social networking sites were abuzz during the recent furore, with many pro and anti Manyi pundits adding their voices to the debate. While many agreed with Manuel, as many others sided with Manyi, saying he was only articulating what many people already believed.

What position President Jacob Zuma will take on his return from a state visit to France is not known, but what is clear is that the fears media watchers voiced when Manyi was appointed chief spokesman are now ringing true – he has become bigger news than the story he is meant to tell.

Posted on http://www.iol.co.za

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