Poor, poor Thabo Mbeki. He is not having a good 2016. Poor, poor Jacob Zuma: his is worse. So different in their sense of themselves, both are paying for the same flaw; neither was capable of conducting a transparent presidency. In this both are so far from Nelson Mandela, who told reporters much of his thinking in real time. By JOHN MATISONN.
Mbeki, the great conspirator, is now well into his twelve-part series on how he was conspired against. His letters no longer matter, but understanding him does, unless you believe history should be swept under the carpet. Needless to say, I don’t.
It is plain that he has lost all discernment about what his country needs. Did he ever have any?
Yet Mbeki could write a string of letters the country would read. It’s not that he doesn’t know anything we are interested to hear. He just doesn’t seem to consider telling us.
To help him out, here are a few subjects for letters the country might read if he spoke frankly about them.
It is now pretty clear that you were given bad intelligence on Zimbabwe, both from the highest levels and through your own intelligence services, in the early days of that country’s decline. You were acting in the belief that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was both the primary promoter of violence and that it was not an indigenous opposition, but neither of those facts were true. It led to huge job losses in Zimbabwe, serious human rights and rule of law violations, and millions of refugees fleeing into South Africa. That economy, South Africa’s biggest African trading partner, remains a shadow of its former self, posing a drain on South Africa instead of an economic growth partner. Any lessons there, Mr President? Anything those who follow you could learn from, or should we just accept the lessons offered by President Robert Mugabe’s other friend, Julius Malema? You had access to the best advice in the land, on every subject of importance. You must have useful information and ideas to share. You must have rethought some of your decisions. Someone in your shoes who cares about his country would surely want to pass on the experience of your life’s work? Or is that not how you think about it?
I said I would add HIV/AIDS, but that story is already well told and too depressing to repeat. Thankfully, under President Zuma, we have in Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi a dedicated public servant who understands the science and cares about every patient, a credit to the Hippocratic Oath he swore when he became a doctor. He is one of few first rate ministers still in your cabinet.
But senior ministers did not come to Zuma’s defence in the two-day debate on the State of the Nation Address, as they normally do. They dared not defend his Nkandla about-face or his Nene humiliation. In the end, transparency did come.
We now know that Des van Rooyen entered the Finance Ministry with two experts who said they were taking charge of signing off on funding decisions. Courageous civil servants in the Treasury starting with the director-general put their careers on the line to stop them, black businessmen and bankers told Zuma to reverse himself, and he did. He is the president, but he does not preside.
Zuma is Mbeki’s legacy. Working in the dark, they both dealt with challenges in the dark. It’s up to us to ensure the next president works in the light. For Mbeki to have any hope of recovering respect, the onus is on him to answer questions like these truthfully, without artful dodging or point scoring. DM
John Matisonn is the author of GOD, SPIES AND LIES, Finding South Africa’s future through its past.
Photo: Original photo of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December 2007 by Greg Marinovich.
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