The government spokesman isn't apologizing for saying race still matters in post-apartheid South Africa, even though his pronouncements on mixed-race South Africans have competed in the headlines with his statements on policy.
Jimmy Manyi, who is black, told reporters Monday he has worked to help transform an economy shaped during apartheid, when blacks were denied opportunities. He says South Africans can't "gloss over" the past, and that he is not racist for raising issues such as statistics that show black South Africans remain the country's poorest, and that white South Africans continue to hold most top-level jobs in the private sector.
Since Manyi took over as spokesman for the Cabinet and head of the government's communications department in February, critics have accused him of racism, or of at least being preoccupied by race, pointing to comments he made before his appointment that could be read as implying he thought too many mixed-race South Africans lived in western South Africa. A mixed-race Cabinet minister publicly scolded Manyi for the comments.
"When you drive transformation, you remove people from their comfort zones," said Manyi, who also is president of the Black Management Forum, an independent group founded to support black business leaders and to encourage South African corporations to promote black managers.
"The disparities that were inherited in 1994, we're still dealing with them, and they're still defined along racial lines," Manyi said.
In an interview a year ago, Manyi was quoted as referring to an "oversupply of coloreds," as mixed-race South Africans are known, in the country's Western Cape Province. Manyi said the comments, seized upon by opposition parties after he was appointed government spokesman, were part of a broader discussion of employment patterns in the country.
Trevor Manuel, a Cabinet minister who is mixed-race, published an open letter in a South African newspaper saying the comments made Manyi a "racist" and comparing him to apartheid-era politicians.
"I now know who Nelson Mandela was talking about when he said from the dock that he had fought against white domination and that he had fought against black domination _ Jimmy, he was talking about fighting against people like you," Manuel wrote.
Manyi found himself answering questions about his relationship with Manuel during briefings that were supposed to have been devoted to explaining Cabinet positions.
As Manyi addressed foreign reporters in Johannesburg, a court case being heard across town also underlined sensitivities about race in South Africa.
AfriForum, which portrays itself as an advocate for white South Africans of Dutch descent, is seeking to have a judge ban the leader of the governing African National Congress' youth wing from singing the apartheid-era song "Shoot the boer." Boer, "farmer" in the language of the Dutch descendants known as Afrikaners, is sometimes used as an insult for whites.
The hate speech trial started last week, with hearings being broadcast live across the country. It is expected to last several more days, with political scientists, music experts and politicians debating in testimony whether the song should be protected as a piece of history, or whether Afrikaners should be protected from hearing it.
AfriForum said in a statement Monday it had gone to court in part to expose "the ANC's racist intolerance of minority communities." The ANC accuses AfriForum of trying to deny the pain blacks experienced under apartheid.