044 President Jacob Zuma lays a wreath on the grave of slain SACP's General secretary Chris hani who was murdered twenty years ago. The ceremony was at Thomas Nkobi Memorial Park near Boksburg in Ekurhuleni. 100413 Picture: boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has slapped down Planning Minister Trevor Manuel’s warning to public servants not to blame apartheid for their failings, saying such comments were “a mistake”.

“To suggest we cannot blame apartheid for what is happening in our country now, I think is a mistake to say the least,” Zuma said on Wednesday at a wreath-laying ceremony in Ekurhuleni for slain SACP leader Chris Hani.

Zuma said it was impossible for change to be completed in just 20 years.

 “We don’t need to indicate what it is apartheid did. The fact that the country is two in one, you go to any city, there is a beautiful part and squatters on the other side, this is not the making of democracy and we can’t stop blaming those who caused it,” said Zuma.

The president has in the past been ridiculed for invoking apartheid to deflect criticism of his government’s performance.

Manuel’s comments, at a public servants’ summit last week, set off a storm of protest, with Cosatu affiliate the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) accusing him of being “dishonest”.

Nehawu accused Manuel of ignoring that “privatisation, outsourcing and public-private partnerships” had been “disastrous for service delivery and have exacerbated the problem of corruption in the public sector”.

Manuel had used an example from the education sector to illustrate failed service delivery.

“Through laxity like this we fail our people, repeatedly,” he said of a project to provide teachers, whose achievement had been “sporadic at best, derelict at worst”, with laptops.

“Nineteen years into democracy, our government has run out of excuses. We cannot continue to blame apartheid for our failings as a state. We cannot plead ignorance or inexperience. The time for change, for a ruthless focus on implementation, has come.”

Manuel also said there was a blurring of the lines in the appointment of government officials, who were often hand-picked by the ruling party. This in itself was not a problem, but public servants should remember they were not accountable to the ruling party, he said.

 When the Cape Argus asked Manuel for his reaction to the remarks made by Zuma, he declined to comment.

On Wednesday night Manuel was speaking at an event in the Promenade Mall in Mitchells Plain to award bursaries to 16 students from Mitchells Plain.

“I didn't see the response and I am not going to take the word of a journalist. I want to see the text,” he said.

Speaking before Zuma at the Hani memorial on Wednesday, SACP leader Blade Nzimande and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also squared off through oblique references to each other.

Vavi said Hani had “epitomised the principle of selflessness” and, when “many leaders were seeking jobs as government ministers or officials – with better salaries – Chris Hani took on the lowly paid, but politically crucial position of general secretary of the SACP”.

 Nzimande accused “some in our ranks” of using Hani’s words about not being interested in joining the government “to try to rubbish SACP decisions about participating in our own government”.

 The ceremony concluded with the laying of wreaths at Hani’s tombstone.

The Star