Let us not drop any titles. Let us not pretend that you are not a cabinet minister. Nor should we act as if Mr Jimmy Manyi is not a “director-general equivalent”. Shamefully, some of us did not partake in the “misery of exile”. Had we done so, we might not have returned from foreign lands with degrees and qualifications. Clearly, we were having fun there not misery. Nor could we claim any victories in the “battles at the barricades and from apartheid’s jails” — except perhaps as timid stone throwers at a few sporadic incidents of lame protests of no particular significance.

We hope sincerely that in order to qualify to address the honourable member and in order to qualify to join this high-level debate between our honourable cabinet minister and our equally honourable director-general, we do not have to prove what we have done “in the war”. That is a test we would fail dismally. A few among us, some of them our own siblings, might be able to prove what they did in the war — if they did not die in the war. A few more yet, might be able to describe the architecture of apartheid jails, if they did not lose their minds and if they did not wreck their souls in there. If you think Jimmy Manyi has poor struggle credentials, you obviously have not met us. We are presidents of nothing, governors of nobody, chairmen of zero and director-generals of only our households. Compared to us, you and Mr Manyi are “bosses”. Mr Vusi Mona is patently incorrect to suggest, as he does in his luke-warm and self-contradictory apology on behalf of Mr Jimmy Manyi, that mischief is what motivates those who “suggest that the perceived influence of an individual could sway government policy”. You and Jimmy Manyi do indeed have the power to sway government policy. We will not be fooled by either of you. Yet we will not go as far as to accuse you of wanting to become a “de facto imperial prime minister”, as Cosatu did slightly more than a year ago. You may be no imperial prime minister, but please, let us not pretend that you are just an ordinary cabinet minister. Save us the transparently false and sneering modesty of your “letter to Jimmy”.

Perhaps our nicely folded layers of memories could do with a bit of refreshing. Except for the two days of the 23rd and 24th of September 2008 when you momentarily joined a number of other cabinet ministers in resigning from your cabinet post in the wake of the Thabo Mbeki recall, you have been a cabinet minister for more than 6 205 days. That is roughly every single day since 1994. For 13 years you served in the key and pivotal portfolio of the finance ministry. You have served under all our three and a half presidents since democracy. Currently, as minister in the presidency responsible for planning, you wield enormous influence and exercise considerable power.

Therefore, allow us to address you properly, the established imbongi style. The honourable member of the South African National Assembly since 1994 to date; member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC since 1991 to date; member of the ANC National Working Committee since 1991 to date; governor on the board of the World Bank and other governorships; you who went spent the eighties going in and out of jail, in and out of banning orders because of your radical political activities; founder member of the UDF, “son of those who waged the first anti-colonial battles against the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British when they set foot on our shores”; we greet you! Since open letters are rarely if ever meant solely for the named addressees, allow us to acknowledge safe receipt of your letter of righteous anger. Having watched the podcast of the kykNET Manyi interview on YouTube we agree that his statement — coming from a director-general — is so shocking and so reprehensible we had to stop ourselves from puking afterwards. We come from a history where apartheid population engineers would not only speak the way Manyi spoke but would proceed to literally remove whole communities of people, cutting and pasting them as they please from one place to another. All this, in order to secure and clean up white South Africa. Has Jimmy Manyi not read Bloke Modisane’s Sophiatown tragedy Blame Me on History? Did Manyi realise how his statement sounds so much like the countless statements of those who plotted and rationalised the needless and ruthless removal and dispossession of communities?

Nevertheless, with due respect, we do wonder whether the honourable minister truly needed all of that linguistic flamboyance, which at points veers towards the crude and the vulgar. We think the essential point could have been made more economically and therefore more effectively.

It is pleasing to note that you waged the struggle against apartheid “not as a coloured” which is, according to you, an “epithet that apartheid sought to attach to you” but “as a non-racist” in deference to the ANC and the Constitution of the land. It would be a pity if you were to open yourself, unwittingly, to the possibility of being viewed as one speaking and acting merely, or mainly, as a coloured person or a coloured leader. Such a view of you, would take us all several steps backwards in our struggle against racism and ethnocentrism. We suspect that part of the reason you are so upset with Jimmy is that, as well as undermining the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the land, his utterances threaten to undo the delicate work you and your comrades have been trying to do in order to revive the electoral fortunes of the ANC in the Western Cape.

We fear that your letter, though clearly not intended, may become more useful in the hands of those who wish to drive a wedge between the coloured peoples and “Africans in general” than in the hands of those who are seeking the path of rapprochement. Its emotive language will neither promote nor evoke rational response. Nor will your readers fail to see the time lag between the date Manyi made his abhorrent utterances and the date your letter was published. Why do you not thank the union Solidarity properly for giving you access to the Manyi interview recording, your readers will wonder. Your letter could yet become one of the most potent tools in the hands of the ANC’s political opponents during this electioneering period with a view to the 2011 local government elections. From a neutral’s point of view that is no train smash. But not only does your letter cast doubts on the fitness of your colleague Mr Jimmy Manyi to hold public office — a sentiment shared by many — it also seems to cast strong doubts over the integrity of the entire employment equity legislation and processes in the country. I doubt if this country can afford at this time, wholesale and indiscriminate discrediting of sound and just employment equity imperatives, especially coming from someone as senior and as influential as you.


  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.


Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination...

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