This is almost certainly the last report card we will ever write for Trevor Manuel, the Cabinet minister who has earned the most consistently high scores from us over nearly two decades in government.
He has declined nomination for the ANC`s national executive committee and there wasn`t a single senior government or party official at Mangaung who was prepared to bet that he would still be in government come April. The temptation, then, is to write a valedictory report on his career in office, from the rand-rattling days of his “amorphous markets” comment through the tough love (and tougher alliance politics) of the growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) years and the expansionary
drive of the boom years leading up to 2008. We would give him high marks for building the best department in the government by a country mile, for budgetary transparency and predictability, for creating the fiscal space that has helped South Africa to weather the worst of the global downturn and for protecting the Reserve Bank`s independence.
But we would call him on some of the unanticipated costs of Gear, notably the late decision to invest in electricity infrastructure, hospitals and schools. The report card isn`t a place to do that analysis in detail, but it is worth a brief reflection because Manuel`s signature tune as finance minister is echoed in his work as the minister in the presidency in charge of the national planning commission.
To be fair, assembling a team of crack, broadly ANC-aligned brains to deliver a vision of the road to 2030 is an easier (and no doubt more enjoyable) job than fixing broken schools or parastatals, but Manuel has had to do hard political work to make the plan the centre of ruling party policy while also getting it adopted by the business community and the opposition.
The plan is the most credible one on the table, offering open, flexible and competitive policies with strong social protections and a large investment in human capacity. Although it has been somewhat diluted by political horse-trading, it still offers a clear way forward. We’re sorry that Manuel won`t be around to ensure it gets more than lip service from those in the government and the ANC who have reluctantly accepted it.