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Jimmy Manyi’s departure from government communications will not be mourned – especially by those he was supposed to have interacted with the most, media practitioners. For several months now it has been known the government would not renew the contract of its chief spin doctor and spokesman when it ended on August 25. He had earlier been controversially parachuted from the Department of Labour where he was director-general after a public fallout with then minister Membathisi Mdladlana.
This was after a complaint by the Norwegian ambassador to SA that Manyi had tried to facilitate a private business deal during a presentation by a Norwegian delegation.
Manyi was suspended in June 2010 only to resurface a few months later as chief executive of the Government Communication and Information System.
A former corporate executive in the private sector, Manyi replaced affable and experienced GCIS chief executive Themba Maseko at a time when the government was under pressure to ensure that its messages, programmes and activities were widely published in the media and thus to the wider public.
But alas, Manyi was to be main headline news.
His controversial statements – chief of which was about the “over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape” – were to hog the headlines for the duration of his tenure. This deeply angered some in the ANC, which was battling to reverse a loss of support among coloured voters in the Western Cape.
At the height of the toll roads controversy, Manyi’s comments to Gauteng residents was they had better “get used to it”.
Also controversial was his presidency of the Black Management Forum, a position he steadfastly refused to vacate while working for the government.
Despite platitudes from Manyi’s former boss, Performance and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane, that he (Manyi) was instrumental in communicating government programmes, South Africans, especially those in the media, will remember a different Manyi.
For it was under his tenure that relations between the media and government plummeted to low levels to the detriment of consumers and taxpayers.
But his departure gives the government the opportunity to ditch its unpopular cadre deployment strategy; find someone who will ensure a positive government presence in the media; allow for smooth interaction between the government and the public via journalists and also find someone who can do the job Manyi so dismally failed at.