Jimmy Manyi. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA
Jimmy Manyi. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA

I HAD hardly heard of Jimmy Manyi before I listened to him in May 2009 at the War Museum in Saxonwold, opposite the Gupta compound.

Manyi had been invited to address an event hosted by the Institute of Race Relations, exploring the 10 pillars of democracy. He was clearly unprepared, but attempted to disguise this by launching an attack on the seated audience. "I can feel the racism in the room," he said, scowling.

The accusations were too blunt and wild for a crafty pair of octogenarians seated in the row in front of me.

"Excuse me," one of the men said as he stood up, "you are driven by racist hatred and you are talking rubbish." He quickly summarised poverty and conflict, from the American depression to the Balkan wars, before explaining that he and his fellow geezer next to him were fathers to children involved in mixed marriages.

To describe Manyi as being "schooled" would be too polite.

Naturally, the audience, whom he had just insulted, sided with the assertive interruption, leaving him in the awkward position of being unable to complete something he was winging in the first place.

(A year after the event, Manyi was sacked from his position as director-general in the Department of Labour by then labour minister Membathisi Mdladlana for inappropriate conduct with Scandinavian diplomats. Exactly what happened in that exchange, like so many other curious encounters that involve individuals aligned to Jacob Zuma’s ANC, has never been comprehensively revealed).

Manyi is an impressive man. Beyond speeches he hasn’t prepared, he articulates well, something he ably demonstrated as a broadcaster, albeit on a lousy television channel. He dresses immaculately, and is probably one of the most photogenic men in SA, which is useful if you adore publicity as much as he does. He holds a degree from Harvard, served on the board of Tiger Brands and led the Black Management Forum, although not nearly as well as his successor, Bonang Mohale.

In 2011, Manyi really outdid himself when he managed, in a single sentence, to insult every coloured person in the Western Cape, dead or alive.

"The Western Cape," he announced during an interview, "has an oversupply of coloureds." History, as indicated by Manyi’s performance at the War Museum two years previously, might not appear prominently on his list of priorities.

But good timing conceals all manner of previous sins. Not hours after the troubled Amazintoti estate agent Penny Sparrow had insulted every black person in the world, dead or alive, by calling them monkeys, Manyi was at the Hillbrow police station, laying charges against her.

He was accused of hypocrisy; I prefer to think of it as genius.

In the great auction of our political time, where the lots didn’t even know they were being sold, a certain family produced the winning bid for Manyi, banking him among their other acquisitions in Brian Molefe, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jessie Duarte, Pinky Khoabane — and even the mildly certifiable Andile Mngxitama — people linked by their conviction in the strength of Zuma's provincial support as a means to protect and sustain their own interests.

Despite its clear calculation, Manyi’s decision to side with this group may only temporarily advance his ambitions.

With the procession of excuses for the Zuma ANC’s performance now getting close to urban legend status, he is reducing himself to being SA’s Rev Al Sharpton, a man who was recently exposed as having spied on the Mafia for the FBI.

It would be interesting to hear what Manyi’s fellow Harvard alumni — an institution that produces more billionaires than anywhere else on earth — think about one of their own supporting ministers like Des van Rooyen, Mosebenzi Zwane and Faith Muthambi, and people like Dudu Myeni.

Such a move is ultimately a shame. Because, in a manner of fast women and slow horses, he will end up like the astonishingly troubled Ronald Suresh Roberts, who nailed his colours to Thabo Mbeki’s mast and whom I saw last week sitting on a barge on Regent’s Canal in Islington, drinking beer, staring vacantly into the blighted water.

Reader works for an energy investment and political advisory firm.