THE Guptas are victims of “racial prejudice”, critics of government spokesman Jimmy Manyi have a “hatred of change” and minister Trevor Manuel should shut up. These are the messages from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who came out with guns blazing yesterday in defence of the party’s controversial associates.
Mantashe’s remarks indicate a growing chasm between ANC leaders about how to handle the controversy about President Jacob Zuma’s links with the family, and Manyi’s public spat with Manuel.
Briefing journalists yesterday about Monday’s meeting of the ANC’s national working committee at the party’s HQ, Luthuli House, in Johannesburg, Mantashe said the Gupta family was being singled out for public criticism because of its Indian origins.
The family has close business ties with Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
The Sunday Times recently reported that a storm was brewing in the ruling party about the Guptas’ alleged influence over cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
The family, which owns Sahara Computers and has business interests in mining, is also accused of meddling in the affairs of government parastatals.
The Guptas were expected to be discussed at Monday’s meeting.
Mantashe said yesterday that the national working committee had decided not to focus on the family but to look into whether the ANC was unduly influenced by business in general.
He accused the media of being preoccupied with the Guptas because of their nationality. He said comparable attention was not being given to white-owned companies with similar links to ANC-aligned empowerment groups.
Mantashe said Indian and Chinese companies entering into deals with BEE companies were likely to receive bad publicity because they were considered “not white enough”.
“When it is Anglo, it is not a big deal. When it is BHP Billiton, that gave birth to Isizwe and Exxarro, then it is not a big deal. All of a sudden, it is the Guptas and it is a big deal because it is not a British or Australian company, it is an Indian company. Then it becomes a big deal because the owners do not look white enough to partner other BEE beneficiaries. In my own view, there is racial prejudice in this debate,” Mantashe said.
Mantashe dismissed calls from opposition parties and trade unions for Manyi to be axed as cabinet spokesman. He said the calls were motivated by “deep hatred for change”.
“They are making that demand for a statement made in March [last year]. I want people to convince us it is a genuine call, it’s not a question of what we call ‘hot pursuit’ that you have so strong a hatred of a person that anything he touches smells. That is what it looks like in the case of Manyi, and the calls by some are misplaced,” Mantashe said.
Manyi, appointed cabinet spokesman last month, has been embroiled in a racial controversy after the rebroadcast of remarks he made in his capacity as president of the Black Management Forum in March last year.
In an interview with KykNet, he said there was an “over-supply” of coloureds in Western Cape and that they should spread to other provinces to increase their chances of employment.
Mantashe said Manyi will not be fired: “Up to now, nobody has raised the question of incompetence on the part of [Manyi]. Everybody makes this call on the basis of what he says as president of [the Black Management Forum] in 2010 and they think he irritated them so much when he was speaking that they must pursue him.”
In what has been interpreted as a dressing-down for Manuel, who publicly slammed Manyi’s comments, the national working committee called on party members “to refrain from behaving as if they are free agents who speak as individuals”.
Manuel wrote an open letter last week in which he accused Manyi of propagating racist views. He slammed him for getting government deputy spokesman Vusi Mona to apologise for his remarks on his behalf instead of doing so himself.
Mantashe yesterday denied that the committee’s remarks were directed at Manuel. He said they were aimed at ”anybody who is an ANC member”.
“If you allow members to talk as they wish, then you can have no organisation,” Mantashe said.
Late yesterday, Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane said Manyi “will continue to receive the support of the ministry and should be given an opportunity to prove himself in his new role.”