Trevor Manuel opening doors for investors

Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel was recently called back into public service by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who asked him to serve as an investment envoy along with former Finance Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas and businesspeople Phumzile Langeni and Jacko Maree. Their task is to attract $100-billion of investments into the South African economy over the next few years. Manuel spoke to Ryland Fisher during this wide-ranging interview about service to the people and investing in South Africa’s future.

“I am betwixt and between at the moment. I have a number of non executive roles in the private sector, but I also work with universities and NGOs. I don’t think there is a contradiction between the two. We have to do the best that we can.

“It is about delivering quality service. It’s about understanding the complexity of building a new state because that’s the mindset that we must have over the next few years.

“We should not blame the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We should blame poor governance. If we end up with a harsh IMF programme, it is because of a decade of poor governance. It is because we did not do what we are capable of doing.

“We need to keep Eskom afloat, and that means that government must provide it with a guarantee or a cash injection.”

Manuel added that there needs to be an insistence on clean government from the ground up.

“We need to ensure that the push for change is strong and articulate in this environment.”

He refused to be drawn on what he and the President spoke about on their walk on the Sea Point Promenade immediately after Ramaphosa’s election.

“One of the reasons I enjoy spending time in Cape Town is because I walk every day. I didn’t set up to meet the President. “

I was walking and when I passed the SABC, I saw him get out of the car and then we just walked together.

“We have known each other for a long time. For instance, when I chaired the National Planning Commission, he was my deputy.

“We both put a lot of time and emotion into ensuring that the National Development Plan (NDP) was durable and we need to talk about how we take it forward. There are so many issues to resolve.”


“I’ve never made a secret about my general approach. I became an activist at a relatively early age. The only thing I knew was activism really. You would get a job to put some food on the table, but it was activism that concerned an entire generation of us.

“If you asked any of us during the mid-1980s how we were preparing to govern the people, I don’t think anybody could tell you that we were. I can say without fear of contradiction that ending up in government was never part of any plan.

“You only thought of life as an engagement in struggle. There were some people who were the most incredible activists, but they just couldn’t fit into government roles. It was all just horses for courses and things could have turned out differently.

“I ended up in Cabinet, but that is not the only place to serve.

There are a number of ways in which we can do it and we have to find equilibrium, a point where we can continue to serve. “For me, the big issue is how we rebuild a local leadership, because we must give a voice to people through their own organs. We had it in public, civic and youth movements before, and they’re not there in quite the same form anymore.”


Manuel said he was confident that he and the other three investment envoys would succeed in their task of attracting investment into South Africa.

“We are still trying to find our feet. All of us were called at short notice and we needed first to decide how we could collaborate. We can’t all work together like a herd. We have to play to our various strengths.

“It means utilising opportunities; sometimes with the President, sometimes without the President. We will work mostly as individuals, using our networks – both domestic and international.

“We have also been talking to business leaders in South Africa, because we can’t go outside if business in South Africa is not ready.

“There are residual problems with the Mining Charter, for instance. If we don’t sort these out, we are not going to get the investments. Sometimes, as a group, we factor in all these observations that investors are sharing with us.

“I have been talking to my networks in New York, London and Dublin. Jacko [Maree], because of his links with Standard Bank, has visited China and Japan. Mcebisi [Jonas] has already been to the United States. But these markets are big and all of us can be in the United States at the same time, in different cities, talking to different networks. A lot of that will happen over the next period.

“There is a lot to be done. But we can’t fail. If we raise

US$50-billion, collectively we’ve won. If we raise US$10-billion, we’ve won. It’s a stretched target but one that we must commit to.”

He remains positive about South Africa’s future.

“I don’t have a foot in any other country. I don’t own property in any other country. I don’t carry the passport of any other country. My family is here. I’m very confident. There’s no question about the deep commitment that we have to South Africa. If you have this commitment, you have to look at where you can influence the situation and improve on the observations that we make and share with many other people.”