There's a poignant story about Trevor Manuel doing the rounds in left-wing circles that, apocryphal or not, is worth another telling: Some time in 1992, Nelson Mandela assembled all the party leaders and intellectuals in order to assess what skills and intellectual resources were available that he might employ when forming a government a most daunting task for a Peoples Party that had never been in parliament, let alone in government (or business, for that matter).
Somewhere along the line, Mandela posed the question: Are there any economists among us? Only one hand was raised that of Trevor Manuel. Trevor was immediately appointed head of the ANCs department of economic planning.
Later, as they left the meeting, Dullah Omar approached to congratulate Trevor and then confessed that he had been surprised to learn for the first time, after all their years of friendship, that Trevor was an economist. (In fact he recalled that, although smart and a good speaker, Trevor had failed maths in matric.)
But Im not an economist! says Trevor. So why had he indicated that he was? Oh, declared Trevor, I thought he was asking: Who here's a communist?!
Its at least good for a laugh. But when Trevor Manuel asks a high court judge to gag his most tenacious critic, arms activist Terry Crawford-Browne for whose courage, knowledge and commitment we retain the highest regard and threatens journalists who might publish what Crawford-Browne has to say, thats no laughing matter. Thats provocation.
Manuel and those of his cabinet colleagues who endorsed the arms deals have a lot to answer for. The governments own Joint Investigating Team reported having found that all the deals were riddled with irregularities. The affordability study (produced by Manuels own expert advisors at the time) that he persists in trying to hide from Crawford-Browne and the courts, condemns him and his cabinet colleagues.
Fact is, it is his signature that appears on the notorious arms-finance agreements. If, as he now claims, he only signed as representative of the cabinet, well, then, he can answer questions regarding the reasonableness and legality of his actions as representative of the cabinet. He should just see to it that he has supporting affidavits from his colleagues on that score.
Our less than honourable minister of finance has already lied to court more than once (and at least once under oath) in his desperate attempts to fend off Crawford-Brownes legitimate demands for information.
Bizarrely, Manuel initiated court action against Crawford-Browne for defamation, but now, when the latter responds with an entirely proper defence, Manuel wants the court to label Crawford-Browne a vexatious litigant!
We were reminded of Oscar Wilde, who sued despite advice to the contrary and ended up defaming himself when there was actually no defamation at all.
Manuel was being disingenuous when he told the court that all he wanted was a temporary interdict to silence Crawford-Browne, pending a defamation trial in which evidence would be led. He and his lawyers know that such an interdict would be final in effect and they would need to do nothing more after that. Given what we already know about Manuel and his role in the arms deal (see noses36,42&43 for a start), why would he want to start a trial in which he will have to endure the rigours of hostile cross-examination, and risk having to answer some most inconvenient questions all under oath?
Theres already an affidavit by Andrew Feinstein, filed at court by Crawford-Browne, in which Feinstein recounts a conversation with Manuel in which the latter told him we all knew about [then minister of defence] Joe Modises [corruption]. Would you like to tell the court a bit more about that, Mr Manuel?
(Fortunately for us, when FirstRand tried the interim interdict stunt on noseweek, Deputy Judge President Traverso saw through the tacky ploy Weve all been around the block a few times!, she told them and ordered the bank to argue their case on the basis that what they actually wanted was a final gagging order.)
Take our word for it: if a Trevor versus Terry trial ever approaches, a flurry of applications will be brought by Trevors lawyers, with the sole purpose of stringing out the case so that Terry never gets to cross-examine Trevor.
Trevors counsel has told the court that he wants to play this battle by the Queensbury Rules. One of which, as we recall, says no hitting below the belt.
We say today to Trevor: if youre honest about having this defamation litigation heard, then go with Mr Crawford-Browne to the high court right away and obtain a trial date and keep the appointment.
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