Up is DOWN. Down is UP: Former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) director-general Mzwanele Manyi (Photos: Felix Dlangamandla / Netwerk24)
Whatever the Zondo commission costs the taxpayer per day, we should all be asking for a rebate for Wednesday and Thursday – when Mzwanele 'Jimmy' Manyi brought new meaning to the concept of a 'difficult witness'.
When Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi strode into the Zondo commission on Wednesday afternoon, it was his first visit to the State Capture inquiry – but they certainly couldn't afford another.
Not if evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr is to avoid a murder charge. Not if any of us continue to cling to faltering beliefs in the old epistemological cornerstones of the facts, evidence, or truth itself.
Of course, the Zondo commission has seen unco-operative witnesses before. Few can compete with the Zuma father-and-son tag team for Olympic-grade ducking and diving. JZ – in what looks increasingly likely to be his one and only appearance before the commission, due to his sudden onset of unspecified illness – sketched a fever dream of international conspiracies and ancient plots. Duduzane played it slick and laid-back: nothing to see here, folks.
But Manyi? Manyi arrived at the commission for his second round this week ready to unleash a nuclear cloud of obfuscation, digression and semantics. Where other witnesses have alibis, Manyi has semantics.
By the time Manyi walked out of the building on Thursday afternoon, all certainties of the universe had been lost. Every fundamental mooring of modern life was up for debate. What he gave the commission was less "testimony", and more surrealist performance art. (Or was it a survivalist performance art? – Ed)
Here is an incomplete list of some of the words Manyi has now taught us not to deny the flat, one-dimensional concepts we once assumed, but a complex welter of polysemic meanings:
Charges / To be charged. Manyi has consistently tested that he was not "charged" with any wrongdoing related to his time as the director-general of labor. On Wednesday, Hofmeyr and Manyi went through several grueling rounds over the definition of the word “charges”, with Manyi ruminating:
“A technical question, whether you have been charged or not. ”He admitted having received“ allegations ”of misconduct.
On Thursday, in a tremendous Poirot-style gotcha, Hofmeyr produced the smoking gun: a letter written by Manyi in 2010 in which he made explicit mention of the "12 charges" he was facing.
“In November 2010, you had no difficulty understanding that what you had been presented with was 12 charges, ”said Hofmeyr, the bespectacled assassin.
“That's not correct, ”replied Manyi, with the weary air of a man surrounded by simpletons.
“I put '12 charges' here, yes, but the understanding I articulated here yesterday carries. I was probably generous saying '12 charges'. I should probably have said '12 allegations'. "
Suspension / Firing / Dismissal. Was Mzwanele Manyi placed on precautionary suspension by the Labor Department as a result of these allegations, and subsequently dismissed? Yes. If you trust a fat dossier of paperwork to effect, media reports from the time, affidavits from Cabinet ministers involved…
But he was really?
“To say a minister is fired is like saying oil is mixed with water, ”Manyi proclaimed: an impossibility of physics.
Turning to Judge Zondo, and referring to Hofmeyr, he Manyisplained:
“Her disadvantage is probably that she does not understand how the public service works. But I can do a quick workshop here. ”
Manyi's interpretation of the Public Service Act – an interpretation disputed by the current lawyer present, advocate Hofmeyr SC – is that he could not be dismissed by the Labor Minister because only the president has the power to dismiss directors-general.
Ergo: he was "dismissed", but only for play-play.
“I have no evidence of being dismissed, ”Manyi concluded.
“Do you accept that you were fired, was this legal or not? ”Asked Hofmeyr eventually. A vein had begun to throb in her forehead.
“I note your interpretation, ”replied Manyi.
Some time later – it could have been five minutes; Perhaps it was seven hours – Manyi would refer to "my situation, which is colloquially described as 'dismissal'".
Shortly thereafter, Hofmeyr couldn't get enough of such weariness that it appeared to emanate from her very bones.
“Mr Manyi, ”she said, enunciating through teeth that must have been gritted,“ your letters in November  make it absolutely clear you knew you had been fired. ”
“Whatever was purported to have been a dismissal… that really happened, ”said Manyi. Case closed.
Relationship. To be fair to Manyi, the word "relationship" is really a sticky one, which is precisely why Facebook introduced "complicated" as a means of conveying the ambiguity that so often clouds this concept.
One does not ask as meticulous a word-parser as Manyi about his "relationships" and expect a straight answer. But perhaps Hofmeyr was beginning to lose blood to his head because he went on: What was Manyi's relationship with the Guptas prior to his appointment as the government's communications boss?
“Relationship, chair, is a strong term, ”mused Manyi. "I knew about them."
Moments earlier, he had responded to the question, "How would you describe your relationship with former President Zuma?" With what felt like at least a solid minute of eerie chuckling. Only a semiotic wizard, like Manyi himself, could decipher that laugh.
“Former president Zuma is a very friendly person, ”Manyi said, when at last he had composed himself.
“He gets along with a lot of people. President Zuma had a lot of good relationships with a lot of people, and I was one of them. ”
Yes. To a man as embracing of the world's ambivalence as Manyi, to answer a question in the affirmative can only ever be half the story.
“Yes and no, ”he responded, when presented with another piece of documentary evidence contradicting his testimony: in this case, he had worked tirelessly to address procedural irregularities at GCIS.
Earlier, when asked if he had given instructions to his lawyers to write the letters he had signed, Manyi cogitated: "one yes and one else".
To watch Manyi in action was to witness a virtuoso at the top of his game: an artist dismantling with every response the social consensus on meaning itself.
When his thrust-and-parry with Hofmeyr is one day dramatized into a two-hander stage play, there is one particular exchange that will serve as the climactic moment.
Abandoning the attempt to persuade Manyi that the evidence is, well, evidence, Hofmeyr at one point pleaded with him: "Let's assume these facts are accurate".
Shot back Manyi: "Let's assume these facts are wrong." DM
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