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Hands off, Manuel tells ANC members

16 March 2014 - 11:58 By Caiphus Kgosana
PARTING SHOT: Planning Minister Trevor Manuel fears relentless attacks on state institutions could weaken South Africa's democracy.
PARTING SHOT: Planning Minister Trevor Manuel fears relentless attacks on state institutions could weaken South Africa's democracy.
Image: James Oatway

Trevor Manuel warned fellow ANC members and the public this week to stop attacking constitutional institutions.

Manuel, who steps down as planning minister after the May elections, said attacks on institutions of state such as the courts and the public protector would weaken these bodies.

"If every time Trevor Manuel gets up and he speaks badly of parliament and he speaks badly of the courts, he speaks badly of the auditor-general, of the public protector, he makes press statements against them, then what you invite is open season on everything," said Manuel.

His remarks come at a time of intensified ANC attacks on public protector Thuli Madonsela ahead of the release of her report into the state's spending of R215-million on President Jacob Zuma's private homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. The report is due on Wednesday.

Madonsela's ANC critics claim her office selectively leaked a preliminary report on Nkandla and that she was delaying its release to tarnish Zuma's and the ruling party's image ahead of the elections.

In an interview, Manuel urged respect for institutions of state regardless of who holds office.

"You don't have to like the individual, but you have to respect the office," he said.

"If you fail to understand that, then you weaken the institutions and democracy will always struggle if its institutions are weakened."

Manuel, who has served in government since the ANC took power in 1994, resigned briefly from his post as finance minister in September 2008 following the departure of former president Thabo Mbeki.

His resignation caused havoc in financial markets.

In the interview, Manuel defended his decision to resign and repeated his belief that the ANC was wrong to recall Mbeki . "I felt then it was a bad decision. I still think it's a bad decision," he said, adding that his resignation had not been in protest at Mbeki's ousting but was based on principle.

A minister served at the pleasure of the president, he said, and ought to leave when that president was removed.

"For as long as the president is there and has you in his cabinet it's his pleasure. When he is no longer there, his pleasure is terminated. Thabo Mbeki's pleasure to appoint the cabinet was terminated."

He said he had suggested at the time to incoming caretaker president Kgalema Motlanthe that the entire cabinet should resign to allow him to pick a cabinet of his choice. He said he would do the same today.

"When he [Mbeki] was recalled, I went to the then incoming president, Kgalema Motlanthe, [and] I went to Jacob Zuma and said I am resigning. They said 'no you mustn't'. I said no, I'm resigning, in fact, you would be better off inviting all cabinet members to resign.

"You are not going to have factionalism. Everybody resigns and Mkhuluwa [Motlanthe], you will be able to appoint a cabinet of your choice.

"You don't then fetter the pleasure of the president."

Manuel again dismissed speculation that Helen Zille had invited him to become the face of the Democratic Alliance in the elections. He pointed out that he had written a letter denying the original rumour, and reiterated that he would never consider such an offer because he was ideologically opposed to what the DA stood for.

"I have never had a one-on-one with Helen about this matter, which is why I can truthfully say, as I said in the letter, I wasn't offered the leadership. I wasn't even offered lunch."

Manuel would not discuss his plans for the future.

He said he would make a decision on his future within the next two months and would remain in South Africa.