The race war has taken a nasty turn with Paul Ngobeni, a prominent backer of President Jacob Zuma, tearing into Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, calling him a “gangster of a worst kind” who acted like a “king of coloured people”.
In support of Jimmy Manyi, Ngobeni wrote a vitriolic open letter to Manuel, accusing the former finance minister of undermining Zuma and the cabinet for appointing Manyi as government spokesman. Ngobeni calls for Manuel’s sacking.
Ngobeni, who formed part of a “brains trust” that helped Zuma shrug off corruption charges, sprang to Manyi’s defence after Manuel slammed the Black Management Forum president for his comments on the “over-concentration” of coloured people in the Western Cape.
Manyi made the comments last year during a TV show in which he said coloured people needed to spread throughout the country to exploit job opportunities and deal with their “over-concentration” in the Western Cape. He was the director-general of the Department of Labour at the time.
Last week Manuel said the behaviour of Manyi, a known supporter of Zuma and the ANC Youth League, was of the “worst-order racist”.
In a ferocious attack that appeared to have won him many enemies in the ruling party, the minister added: “These statements would make you a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd.”
On Friday, Manyi got some solid backing from Ngobeni, a man who fought side by side with Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe when he was accused of trying to improperly influence judgments involving Zuma at the Constitutional Court before he became president.
Ngobeni, a former UCT deputy registrar of legal services, was appointed legal adviser to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu after Zuma’s ascent to the presidency.
In a no-holds-barred attack, Ngobeni said Manuel, whom he accused of being ignorant of the constitution, was using his senior cabinet and ANC positions to try to dislodge Manyi from his new position.
“I was appalled by your cowardly, unwarranted and racist attacks on Manyi.
“In a gangster-like fashion, some of you have deliberately targeted Manyi and have relentlessly pursued an agenda of driving him out of any position where his views may be heard,” he said.
Ngobeni was scathing on Manuel’s comparison of Manyi to Verwoerd, saying it was “beyond the mischievous and emblematic of a megalomaniac mind that has lost touch with reality”.
He added that Manuel chastised Manyi, especially for his views on employment equity, to align himself to a faction in the ANC.
After Zuma came to power, some in the ruling party, Cosatu and the SACP wanted Manuel to be excluded from the cabinet because he was seen as one of former president Thabo Mbeki’s lieutenants.
Last week Zuma called for restraint in the racial stand-off and said no person should use race for political grandstanding.
But Ngobeni did not hold back, saying Manuel deemed debates on issues affecting coloureds as his “exclusive preserve” and had appointed himself a “coloureds minder”.
“Truth be told, you and a motley crew of coloured politicians have arrogated to yourselves the exclusive monopoly to speak or comment on issues pertaining to coloureds.
“How do we promote a meaningful national dialogue and advance the transformation agenda when you act as gangsters of the worst kind?
“I am now forced to ask: Comrade Manuel, art thou king of the coloureds?”
Ngobeni said Manyi’s comments were an affirmation that South Africa belonged to coloureds in “totality”.
He argued that some coloureds remained in the Western Cape because of an entrenched belief that they had better chances of being employed, because some firms still used apartheid-style methods of hiring, preferring coloureds over black people.
“The coloured labour preference policy which has been scrapped in law continues unabated as it is still being vigorously sought by others… Coloured academics have also written extensively about the nature and the form of coloured identity in the Western Cape and how ‘many coloureds have indicated that they feel marginalised in post-apartheid South Africa’,” he said.
“It is not racist to interrogate these issues and to debate them freely and frankly. They are national issues, not coloured matters,” he added.
Manuel refused to comment on Ngobeni’s letter.
His spokesman, Dumisa Jele, said yesterday: “The minister will not respond on this thing. He just wrote a letter and anybody who chooses to respond is doing that at their own accord. This is a democratic country.”
In his letter to Manyi, Manuel said: “Mr Manyi, you may be black or perhaps you aren’t, because you do not accept that label and would prefer to be only ‘Xhosa’.”
Manuel viewed Manyi’s apology, which was done through a statement issued by the Government Communication and Information System deputy head Vusi Mona, as not genuine. “This continued negative behaviour merely serves to confirm the values that you hold, or more precisely, lack,” he said.
The ANC distanced itself from Manuel’s views, with secretary-general Gwede Mantashe suggesting that he had acted without the party’s blessing.
The racial fight could hurt the ANC, coming as the party intensifies its efforts to woo coloured voters in the Western Cape, where Marius Fransman emerged as the leader of the party after years of infighting caused by racial differences.