South Africa

When Helen met Moeletsi

By Greg Nicolson 17 July 2013

Donning his cap as a political analyst, Moeletsi Mbeki joined Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening to answer the question, “Is South Africa at a crossroads?” It was an easy night for both speakers, who set each other up to take the ANC down. There were few practical answers bar one from Mbeki: without alliances, no opposition party can seriously challenge the ANC. By GREG NICOLSON.

If you were hoping author, businessman, and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki would rain criticism down on the DA and start shouting his support for Agang while speaking in Rosebank on Tuesday evening, you’d be sorely disappointed. Mbeki has long been rumoured to be one of Mamphela Ramphele’s key supporters, both before and after he appeared at the launch of her “political party platform” in February. His own controversies in recent months, including a dispute with a former partner over his home and a public battle over a report from his think-tank, haven’t dampened his criticism of the ANC. Nor have they prompted him to publicly pin his flag to a political mast.

Mbeki appeared alongside Zille at a DA event asking whether South Africa is at a crossroads. “South Africa is not at a crossroads. It is the ANC that is at a crossroads,” said former president Thabo Mbeki’s younger brother. “The ANC is a political party. South Africa is a country.” As usual, Mbeki was pro-investment, batting for increased local manufacturing, and anti-BEE. He said the country’s economy needs reforming while comfortably comparing it to developing states such as China, drawing statistics to show just how little the ANC has done for transformation. He grinned his way through a handy dose of smarmy anecdotes and there wasn’t much the DA’s crowd of 400 could disagree with (there was even a line of people waiting for photographs with Mbeki after the event).

Asked about his links to political parties, Mbeki said he is an independent political analyst and if Zille invites him to speak he will appear, just as he would if Mamphela requested his presence. Rumours that he is involved in Agang were created and perpetuated by the National Intelligence Agency, Mbeki told Daily Maverick.

His most controversial statement of the night came when asked about labour relations. “You can shoot another 34 miners in Marikana, which the government is preparing to do, by the way,” he said. Mbeki didn’t explain his comments but the Rosebank crowd ate it up (they also enjoyed his statistics claiming most ANC voters are uneducated while most DA voters have at least passed matric). Much of the generalisations were left unquestioned but it was left to Helen Zille’s brother to ask what Mbeki would do to transform the economy. When he failed to answer the question, brother Zille interrupted from the crowd, “But what would you prescribe?” Mbeki was light on practical answers.

Zille was less charismatic but more convincing. The conversation was mediated by the party’s Gauteng chairman, John Moodey, who asked about education, the economy and crime. Zille came out to bat for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on the topic of education, claiming that under previous ministers reports into the poor state of teaching and the competency of students would not have been allowed. She blamed Cosatu (targeting attacks at the federation of unions rather than the South African Democratic Teachers Union) for blocking reforms that could improve the system. She also suggested the ANC benefits from keeping voters uneducated.

According to Zille, the country is at a crossroads because ANC politics are South African politics, affecting state institutions, the economy and crime. “The core fault line in South African politics goes right down the middle of the ANC,” she said. If voters in the 2014 election choose the DA in large numbers, it’s a sign South Africa is at an obvious crossroads, paving the way for another party to be voted into government, Zille added.

The most important issue in South Africa is unemployment and it’s already the cornerstone of DA campaigns. Zille wants to promote investment in the country by offering a stable environment while cutting red tape infringing on business activity. By equipping job seekers with the right skills, creating positive and stable conditions for investment, and beating corruption, South Africa can overcome poverty and inequality, she said. That’s in the long-term. She didn’t say how government can calm investors worried about labour unrest and calls for nationalisation in the short-term.

But both speakers agreed that South Africa needs a vibrant opposition that can be a legitimate contender for government. That’s the only way politicians can be held to account and be expected to perform what’s expected of them.

While speaking to him after the event, I said it would have been helpful to have a pro-ANC voice represented. “That’s what the SABC is for,” he quipped. As I walked him to his car, he continued to deny any links to Agang, but said no opposition party was in the position to challenge the ANC on its own – only by forming alliances do they stand a chance. DM

Photo: Helen Zille and Moeletsi Mbeki (Greg Nicolson)

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