The Presidential Years

Another thing that happened about this time, around April or May of 1995, concerned the location of Parliament.

There was a lobby to keep Parliament in Cape Town, the Cape Town Alliance, and they appointed Kallie Hanekom to head it. Kallie arranged for a number of us to be interviewed, to say how nice it is for Parliament to be in Cape Town. The Saturday Argus came out with a two-page spread of this strong group of ministers who wanted Parliament to remain Cape Town.

My office got a call from Virginia Engel in Madiba’s office saying, ‘The president wants to see the minister.’

I arrive there. Zola Skweyiya is sitting there. ‘What are you doing?’ I ask him. ‘I don’t know, I was called here, I don’t know why.’

‘Is there anyone else in there?’ I ask. ‘Yes, Dullah.’ ‘Okay, it is probably this Cape Town Parliament thing,’ I say and he says, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know but the old man’s not happy.’

Then a crestfallen Dullah emerges from Madiba’s office, doesn’t talk and doesn’t look at us, just walks straight past. Zola is going in, Kader is arriving now and just as I was going in Pallo arrived as well.

Madiba basically said to me, ‘So Trevor, you belong to a faction in Cabinet. Your faction is lobbying through the press to have Parliament in Cape Town. You know our views on the matter. You know that I think that the best option that we have to move Parliament to Pretoria is during the one term that I am president. You know that. You know that I’ve asked Mac and Jeff to undertake the research. You know all of that, yet you ignore that and become part of this faction to lobby against decisions that are in the national interest of this country.’

I tried to protest: I wasn’t part of a faction, we had never met on this issue. He said, ‘I’m not interested in your views, you are part of a faction. I want you to hear me: you are part of a faction along with all of you chaps who live here in Cape Town.’ He continued, ‘You know you’re a very good minister and you will become better but if you don’t want to be part of the collective then you must leave. How do you want to conduct yourself?’

I think that for me it was a signal experience because heads of state don’t talk to people; we don’t have that experience in this country. This was Madiba. He had a viewpoint. You could disagree with his viewpoint but he was the head of state and if you didn’t want to be part of the team you had to decide how you played it. For me that was one of the big take-outs of that engagement. It removes the idea of this uninvolved saint who had no views of his own. He was okay with confronting people with issues, even when they weren’t comfortable. He was going to hold the line. For me, regarding his tenure, it’s fundamentally important that issues like that be recognised.

​ Trevor Manuel