CHIEF government spokesman Jimmy Manyi had a torrid time trying to fend off questions from the media over the racism spat between him and national Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Journalists yesterday roasted Manyi at a media briefing he hosted to communicate decisions taken by Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday.
At the centre of the row is an open letter Manuel published in newspapers on Wednesday in which he accuses Manyi of being a racist in the “mould of HF Verwoerd”, the architect of apartheid. The letter was in reaction to Manyi‘s comments during a TV interview last year that coloured people were in over-supply in the Western Cape and should look elsewhere in the country for jobs.
The remarks have landed Manyi in hot water after they were widely interpreted as racist by leading organisations such as labour federation Cosatu, while the ANC has distanced itself from the comments.
Making his first public appearance since the racial storm erupted, Manyi kicked off the Cabinet briefing by telling reporters he would not answer questions on the saga, as it was not discussed by Cabinet.
“I know some of you are interested in a whole range of things, but I will not allow the Cabinet airtime to be abused. I will not abuse it myself. So, I‘m just gonna stick to my brief to talk about Cabinet decisions.
“Some of you are interested in the letter issue of Mr Manuel and I can tell you right now, Cabinet did not discuss the matter, so I will not be responding to questions on that,” said Manyi.
However, journalists pointed out to Manyi that the issue had created a national furore, with some political parties calling for his head to roll, while Cosatu had questioned his fitness to hold senior public office.
Asked by a journalist whether he was confident speaking on behalf of Cabinet ministers when one of them had clearly lost confidence in him, he replied: “Very confident, can‘t you read the confidence just (by) looking at me.”
Manyi said he and Manuel were cordial to each other at Wednesday‘s meeting of the national executive.
“Minister Manuel, yes indeed … we shook hands, so no issues,” he said.