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Will anything rid Zimbabwe of meddlesome Manuel
25/11/2012 00:00:00
by Psychology Maziwisa
Throwing money at bad policy ... Trevor Manuel
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BY ALL accounts, South Africa’s former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, who will be speaking in Harare tonight, is a decent man. He enjoyed a distinguished public career as finance minister for 13 years, serving under the presidencies of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and, briefly, Kgalema Mothlanthe.

There can be no doubt that Manuel brought something meaningful, even unforgettable, to South Africa’s public life and can look back on his record with great pride.

But, as happens to all fine human beings, Manuel’s splendid career is starting to show some worrying signs of decline. Suddenly, he has become clueless, out-of-touch and retrogressive. And I say this with regret because at heart, Manuel continues to be a civilised man.

A few days ago, NewsDay published excerpts of an interview held between one of its journalists and Manuel. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of that interview.

On the question of whether South African entities have found Zimbabwe’s indigenisation policy to be investor-friendly, Manuel explained that “South African companies face several uncertainties in Zimbabwe and this hampers investment”.

He continued: “Zimbabwe needs to create a domestic political and regulatory environment that assures foreign investors that their investments will be safe, that they will be able to repatriate profits, and that there is a skilled workforce.”

And commenting on the prospects of Zimbabwe securing a US$100 million loan facility from South Africa, Manuel replied: “Money is tight. There has to be trade-offs and mutual gains. Nobody can throw good money after bad policies or practices. That would simply be irresponsible.”

Before I plunge into the debate, it’s important to understand quite in what capacity Trevor Manuel made his statements. His utterances, although to a degree well-meaning and probably made while he was invoking the finance minister in him, are part of a wider scheme to vilify Zimbabwe’s indigenisation policy.

In one sense, Manuel’s utterances would have very little to do with the kind of regime-change-inspired condemnation of Zanu PF policies that we have seen in recent years. However, it is hard not to see it in that context given that he is in Harare at the invitation of Alpha Media Holdings, a media stable well-known for its denigration of President Robert Mugabe and uncritical support of Morgan Tsvangirai.


But why would Manuel be of any use to the regime change agenda? There are three main reasons to explain this. The first concerns his international reputation as a finance minister which makes him a credible voice on economic issues.

The second has to do with the mere fact that he is South African. Any criticism of Zimbabwe by South Africa or any of its leading politicians is likely to give, for instance, America and the EU the bargaining chip needed to intensify pressure on Zimbabwe through economic sanctions. I say this because of South Africa’s central role in our regional politics.

The third and most worrying one is that Manuel’s wife, Maria Ramos, is head of ABSA Bank which is owned by Barclays Limited. It appears very likely that part of the conspiracy here is to deliver to Barclays a message of solidarity from Maria in a dubious attempt to influence the leadership of that bank not to comply with a ‘bad policy’, by which is meant the indigenisation policy.

This makes it much easier to understand why Barclays Bank has been the most arrogant and evasive financial institution in terms of compliance with the indigenisation law. But if anyone had hoped to use Trevor Manuel’s visit to embolden, amongst other things, Barclays Bank’s bid to circumvent the indigenisation law, they have just made one terrible mistake.

From now on, Barclays Bank will be on the spotlight much more than any other bank and any sign at all that it intends to avoid our laws will have immediate and terrible repercussions. This is not a threat, it is a statement of fact.

We cannot afford to have people coming to Harare and trying to reverse everything we stand for as a nation. If Trevor Manuel really cares about the economic welfare of nations, why has he failed to advise the South African government on how best to deal with its ever-rising unemployment rate which currently sits at around 50 percent? Why is it that South Africa continues to be counted amongst the world’s most unequal societies?

Mass joblessness is a reality affecting Zimbabwe and the indigenisation policy has gone a long way in addressing this tragic and terrible situation. It’s a policy that is being used to save not just the economy, but the people of Zimbabwe whose suffering has become a moral issue.

To date, the policy has contributed over a billion dollars to the Zimbabwean economy and that figure is likely to grow with the launch of a few more community share trusts by year end.

If by ‘bad policy’ Manuel means a policy that has benefited scores of communities – from Mhondoro-Ngezi to Zvishavane and all the way to Shurugwi, Manicaland, Hwange, Bindura – then yes it’s a bad policy.

If by bad policy Manuel is talking about a policy that has afforded tens of millions of dollars to thousands of young Zimbabweans and created thousands of jobs in the process, itself an unprecedented occurrence not just in the history of Zimbabwe but of South and even beyond, then hell yeah it’s a bad policy.

If by a bad policy that discourages investment he is talking about a policy that has been implemented on a win-win basis, a policy that ensures that investing in Zimbabwe is more worthwhile than investing in South Africa because joint ventures by their nature are sustainable, then yes he is right. The indigenisation policy is not scaring away investors. Quite the opposite.

If anything, it is South Africa that seems to be getting things hopelessly wrong and Trevor Manuel is in denial. Recently, tens of thousands of mine workers rose up to protest against the glaring socio-economic disparities in that country. Where was he? We did not hear him talk about the need to create a stable domestic political and regulatory environment.

As a former anti-apartheid activist himself, it should have been Manuel’s great pleasure to bring home some hard truths about how blacks and coloureds were made to suffer not so long ago and to spell out exactly what it is that needs to be done to ensure justice and equity.

Instead, he chose to become an apologist for evil, a defender of Anglo-Saxon interests. Regrettable as it might be, Manuel is more than welcome to continue to do that in South Africa. But if he thinks that his reprehensible stance will be tolerated in Zimbabwe, then he is making one hell of a mistake.

It is extremely offensive that Manuel can talk about the $100 million requested by the government of Zimbabwe from South Africa in as reckless a fashion as to say, “we can’t throw good money after bad policies”. Zimbabwe is not for sale and we will not trade our principles, values, beliefs and laws for anything, let alone a mere US$100 million which comes with dirty strings attached.

In fact, as a minister in the President’s office, Manuel’s knee jerk comments risk opening up a brutal diplomatic confrontation between Pretoria and Harare. He will be well advised to refrain from doing so in future and especially tonight in Borrowdale where he is expected to deliver a speech.

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