Christopher Rodrigues
Christopher Rodrigues

Class and Jimmy Manyi

It’s, more often than not, a particular sort of person that says that kind of thing. I’m not referring to Jimmy Manyi’s comments about “coloureds” but to his use of the economic phrase “over-supply”.

He could have been discoursing about barrels of oil, or bushels of wheat, or any other commodity but he was talking about a racialised category of human beings. Of course that’s problematic and the outrage is both necessary and urgent.

But, notwithstanding the opprobrium, most commentators seem to have overlooked the reality that the diminishment of people to the status of a commodity, especially in the form of their labour, is so commonplace as to be invisible. As Manyi puts it in that now infamous interview with Freek Robinson: “So you [coloureds but it could just as well be workers] must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply … ”

Apropos his corporate and political credentials, Manyi is a member of a managerial class that regularly speaks about others in a crude fashion — as if the majority were mere utilities in the mechanism of supply and demand.

“Productivity” (meaning the working class’s productivity) is one of the choice idioms of this class. Most speak of it like a holy sacrament. But the concept is inextricably bound with the history of racism; for it was the very notion of the unproductive use of land by the natives, and not just res nullius, that laid the grounds for colonial law and its instrumental prejudices.

Today, the manifestly racist is considered politically incorrect and vulgar but the dehumanising language of profit (and its perennial victims) remains the same. Take this example by way of Neren Rau, chief executive of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who recently said: “You get more output in other countries per worker than in South Africa.”

Output? Are we dealing with souped-up engines? Over-supply? Are we describing the merchandise of Tiger Brands Limited — where Manyi once was the group executive of corporate affairs? Ditto the inanimate phraseology of “efficiency”, “rationalisation” etc.

Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin long ago pointed out how workers were forced to sell their body, mind and spirit so that:

“[The] employer will be the owner of his [the workers] actions and movements. When he is told: ‘Do this’, the worker is obligated to do it; or he is told: ‘Go there’, he must go. Is this not what is called a serf?”

Manyi’s comments recall not just a Verwoerdian-type of racism but reveal the still contemporary nature of a class-based condescension.

  • Atlas Reader

    Work IS a factor of production, like it or not. And work can be done by people or by robots. People aren’t more special than robots when it comes to being a worker. People are only more special at being people. And you don’t earn a wage for being a person — you earn it for being a worker. No work, no wage. Keep it real.

  • Siobhan

    @ Chris

    Excellent analysis. The attitude of so many of the ANC’s ‘leaders’ reveals contempt, indifference, or outright hostility, that it seems absurd for them to claim that they are devoted to the ‘masses’ (a term I utterly despise for the de-humanising reasons you articulated). Politically attuned people recognise the insincerity and ourright ‘posing’ that characterises populist utterances. The less sophisticated, the naively trusting, and the sadly hopeful, swallow it in the hope that, THIS TIME, the politician will ‘deliver’.

    The callousness and arrogance of statements from Manyi as head of the BMF as well as ANC spokesperson are equalled by those from Cele, Simelane, Nyanda, and dozens more. He is not unique or even particularly interesting as a representative of the ‘collective’ values of the ANC. He is just another politically ‘useful idiot’ strutting his moment upon the stage. Unfortunately, the idiots are not useful to the country.

  • The Creator

    If you’re so easily upset about Jimmy Manyi’s allusions, you’re going to be absolutely horrified if someday you try going out to get a job and have to crawl before “Human Resources”.

  • mundundu

    i can buy this argument — the class-based condescension. i suppose that i’m guilty of it to a degree, but at the same time i recognise that it’s entirely because the educational system continues to be such crap.

    as the educational system continues to be utterly useless, there is going to be the continuing argument of “lack of skills” and assorted code terminologies that the people coming into the jobs market are pretty useless for all but unskilled labor.

    and whose fault is that? [in the event that a zuma supporter is reading this, the correct answer is no longer “apartheid”.]

  • Judith

    There is a real need to see others as human beings. Economic analysis does not do this, nor does big business. Only micro business has to realise that its workers are humans, because it actually depends on treating them as such. Same goes for government – it is isolated from the people it serves and dehumanises them

  • Gerry

    “When he is told: ‘Do this’, the worker is obligated to do it; or he is told: ‘Go there’, he must go. Is this not what is called a serf?”

    Tthen Gerry adds:

    “When the worker says “give me money” and expects remuniration without effort, is that not called extortion?”

    People need ot produce in order to gain. you cannot gain anyhting without putting in an effort to produce. Its that simple.

    or do you want a world wherein there are no employers and there are no workers? You cannot have a worker without having a boss. Pray tell your philosophy as to how you are going to chieve this.

    As a businessman, when someone is in my employ, I own their time – I PAY for it. Yes, that person, while in my employ, is a commodity. if that person does not produce, I cannot sell, when I cannot sell, I cannot pay, when I cannot pay, I cannot employ.

    Outside of my employ, outside office hours, “commodification” ends.

  • Grant W

    Yes we are all slaves in a free democracy with the choice to bail out of the slavery at will. So? Way better than hunter-gathering or subsistence farming otherwise nobody would sign up for it.

    What are the alternatives?

    1) We can all sit on our asses and starve, free of slavery.

    2) We can all start working to survive and then we will get organised and some will lead and others will follow and so we end up just where we are, slaves to our human nature in a system we created.

    3) We can try communism again and it will fail again because it goes 180 degrees against said nature and is always highjacked by a bunch of power-crazed maniacs. Always.

    On your horror regarding output of workers, I see it as perfectly acceptable language. We all convert our potential energy into work and charge for it. The higher the output quality and quantity, the more you earn. It goes for workers at all levels. The oligarch’s output is super-high quality in the human relationship field which allows the illusion of him sitting on his butt and whipping the workers in your quasi-Leninistic drama.

    Many workers have systematically been replaced by machines in the hunt for progress. Higher output. Should we look after people? Sure. Should we grow long hair and denounce machines and capitalist pigs that want more output from workers? Not unless you think it might be trippy under a Chinese government…

  • MLH

    Anyway, workers don’t meet the supply, they meet a demand, demand looks for a supply (of workers in this case) to meet its needs.
    Among some of the people I notice on a daily basis, there is a clear misunderstanding of the ‘salary for work’ exchange. Having gained the job, workers often don’t realise that the salary is not (or should not be) theirs by divine right. The exchange of a certain amount of work for the salary received is essential to complete the bargain. If standards are not met, the salary should be forfeit (at a month’s notice).