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Blowing in the wind — Thabo Mbeki’s warnings on ANC ‘renewal’ will be ignored

Blowing in the wind — Thabo Mbeki’s warnings on ANC ‘renewal’ will be ignored
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki at the ANC National Conference at the University of Limpopo in Polokwane on 17 December 2007. (Photo: EPA / Jon Hrusa)

A series of comments by former president Thabo Mbeki that the ANC has not lived up to its promise to renew itself and that a weak South African state faces rampant privatisation have put the party on the back foot — there is just so much truth in what he said.

While former president Thabo Mbeki was relatively quiet in the years after Jacob Zuma’s victory at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference in 2007, he has become more politically active in recent years.

Last week, while speaking at a memorial service for Aziz Pahad, Mbeki sharply criticised the current leadership of the ANC.

Referring to the ANC’s decision to “renew” itself taken at the 2017 Nasrec conference, he said, “We did not do that, we did not renew the ANC after that conference resolution of 2017. That resolution has been repeated by the conference of 2022, to renew the ANC… We are now in October — that was 10 months ago — nothing has happened to renew the ANC. So what was diagnosed in 2017, we are not attending to.”

He also repeated his critique that the state has become enfeebled under the ANC and is now open to almost wholesale privatisation.

“What this [weakened state] will lead to in the end is that you will have capital and civil society running the country, and the democratic state will have disappeared. For the democratic state to disappear means that the overwhelming majority of our people, the poor, lose hope because capital and the civil society will not help them.”

Mbeki was speaking just before this weekend’s meeting of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). As he officially has observer status for NEC meetings, he would have been keenly aware of the timing and he may have wanted to prompt a discussion about these issues within the party.

There is much evidence to show that Mbeki is correct on both points, that:

  • Privatisation is a double-edged sword, which can leave the rich with better services and the poor with almost nothing; and
  • The ANC appears to be unable to “renew” itself, despite repeated promises that it would.

Ramaphosa won the ANC’s 2017 conference on a promise of “renewal” that was largely a reference to what he later called the “nine wasted years” of State Capture. This obscured the fact that the culture of corruption in the ANC dates back to long before Zuma took over, to the early years of our democracy.

Perhaps the most famous of these early warnings came from then ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe. In August 2007, he told the Financial Mail’s Carol Paton, “This rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money.”

‘Hunger for personal gain’

Mbeki himself, during his address to the Polokwane Conference in December of that year, warned that people “engage in criminal and amoral activities driven by the hunger for personal gain, acquired at the expense of the poor of our country, who constitute the millions-strong constituency which regularly votes for the ANC, and which we proudly claim to represent”.

He went even further.

He quoted Nelson Mandela, from his opening address to the ANC’s 1997 conference, when he said, “One of these negative features is the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification. Accordingly, they work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success.”

But, as history records, very few listened to Mbeki and Mandela, and the majority of delegates at Polokwane voted for Zuma to take over the leadership of the party.

The corruption that followed has been well documented by the Zondo Commission and the ANC is now trying to fight against a dynamic which looks like an entrenched culture of corruption, coupled with incompetence.

This, in part, is why the ANC has not been able to “renew” itself. There is, after all, plenty of evidence that its structures have been unable to act against corruption.

To stand a chance in fight against corruption, ANC must empower its integrity commission, or else

More than that, Mandela’s warning about how people “work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success” is surely how people of the dubious calibre of Mduduzi Manana and Malusi Gigaba were re-elected to the NEC.

It will be difficult for the ANC to define what “renewal” really means. If these problems emerged just three years after the ANC was elected into power, then when did it ever govern without them?

The consequence of this is contained in Mbeki’s other point, that the state has become incredibly weak, leading to a situation where the private sector has virtually a monopoly on skills and delivery.

It is normal for a governing party to try to keep as much power as it can for itself and not to relinquish any power willingly. And yet, the move towards privatisation is probably a direct consequence of how corruption has weakened the state.

If Transnet, Eskom and so many other institutions had not been so badly weakened as they were during this time, it is unlikely that the deals involving SOEs and the private sector would be happening to the extent that they are.

The factor that Mbeki has consistently complained about — corruption — has led directly to his other complaint, that the state is being hollowed out.

But, just as Mandela was ignored by ANC delegates in 1997, and as Mbeki was ignored in 2007, so the ANC is likely to (politely) ignore similar warnings now, no matter how many times — every time with increased urgency — Mbeki repeats the warnings. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Stephen, I don’t agree with you or Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki has, by what he has said, actually showed that he does not really understand democracy. Because real democracy means that the people and their businesses are actually free to express themselves, and that is exactly what he is speaking against. Which is more, all these things already started to happen when he was the President. If the people and businesses are free to express themselves, it does not mean that the state is weak. But he is correct in his assertion about the weakness of the state, because that shows in that they are not able to keep criminality in check and they are not able to keep the citizens safe any more; and the reason for that really has to do with the state owned enterprises that gobbles up all the resources, for which the reason is (no matter how much the ANC denies it) that the ANC relies on them to keep itself going financially. And even that has been its’ model ever since it came to power, and it undoubtedly was supported by Mbeki itself, and he contributed to strengthening the hold of the ANC over all of them. And lastly, to an extent the ANC has been able to renew itself to an extent regarding corruption, although it is a process that is still unfolding and will take many more years to complete; and it can even be derailed by wrong leaderships being elected in the meantime; I very much doubt if the ANC still has enough time left for that to happen before they fall out of power.

    • Ukraak17 says:

      Roelf – unfortunately when they (ANC) fall out of power, they will fall into bed with the radical element of our political landscape, just to retain their salaries and power, thus losing any hope of service delivery to the country. There will be more emphasis on who holds onto which office, than at what cost.
      We are on a very slippery slope, govt spends more than it gets, borrows more than it can pay back, all the while eroding any hope of an economic recovery and earning more in much needed taxes. And all the while the youth is finishing school and University, but with no hope of employment. Just look at the absorption rate from StatsSA.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . Furthermore, the whole ANC philosophy of “democratic centralism” is a contradiction of itself. Because real democracy can never be centralized; the whole idea of “government by the people” rests on the basis of the society being DE-centralized enough so the people can make independent choices. As long as the ANC wants the people to be dependent on them, it is not really democracy. And the African people are slowly starting to realize it; that is why the ANC support is slowly dwindling away.

    • Jennifer D says:


    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Roelf, I don’t disagree with you. However, I think the problem is even more fundamental than that which you suggest!
      Gwede Mantashe, in the last day or two, had a dig at NGO’s for ‘weaponising’ green energy which was preventing African States from exploiting their vast mineral wealth resources.
      When you have Leaders who equate growth to extraction – when you have a Party who viewed SOE’s as a source of exploitation (for both personal & party gain) this talks to a collective whose thinking is not only anchored in the past, but is short term & ill equipped for the future.
      The Unions suffer the same ‘our share of a shrinking pie’ thinking with apparently little regard to tomorrow.
      We are now reaping the non reward of Leadership with limited vision. Govt has run out of money (despite what our President says) & the only people that have access to it is Big Business.
      So I agree with Thabo Mbeki but only partially for the reasons he has advanced. The reason we find ourselves in the position we do is because ANC ideology, philosophy & thinking had already exceeded its sell by date in 1994 when it came into power.
      The ANC model has proved itself fatally flawed

      • Penny Philip says:

        Mbeki’s naive beliefs were fundamentally socialist/ marxist because that was the era he lived in as a young man, & he stubbornly refused to accept that these systems proved failures.

  • Cachunk Cachunk says:

    ANC = Are Not Capable, All Naturally Corrupt, Absolutely Not Competent, etc…

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    For the democratic state to disappear means that the overwhelming majority of our people, the poor, lose hope because capital and the civil society will not help them.

    If they were educated they would and should have lost hope in this useless government years ago.

    …just like educated people have been saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying and saying.

    Until the black racist arrogance and criminality stop and it is recognized that working together under the clear rule of law is the only way, this decline will simply continue until there is nothing left.

    So stupid.

  • Simon Thompson says:

    Sure, at first blush privatisation will compromise the poor. But is that actually true?! Its just possible that, in our South Africa, capital and civil society will not “forgot” about the poor at all. This for multiple reasons, both altruistic and non-altruistic.

    • Michael Shepstone says:

      I agree. Privatization will lead to investment, which will lead to growth, which will lead to employment, which will lead to more tax being paid, which will lead to more money for social grants etc etc.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Mbeki is right about the pathetic ANC but for the wrong reasons. His concern about its weakness is only that the ANC is unable to maintain central control of every aspect of the economy, not that it has destroyed everything it has touched.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “What this [weakened state] will lead to in the end is that you will have capital and civil society running the country, and the democratic state will have disappeared.”

    This failure of another ANC president should rather get off his high horse and come down to the Cape and see how things can be done by government without spouting off with his stupid nonsense, and without a bunch of crooked incompetent cadavers, sorry cadres, stealing the taxpayers blind. He really is an idiot.

  • Graham Eric Dyson says:

    When I read the comments to DM’s articles, I wonder what the point is of having such a facility. Sure, there are some constructive contributions. But too many comments have little to no value, and contribute nothing to understanding or addressing the enormous challenges faced by the country. Perhaps DM could make a separate comments area for those who are unable to resist their impulses to lash out, blame, insult and generally blow off. A kind of whinge chamber, where people can see their frustrations in print, and perhaps get some sort of therapeutic dividend. I read much criticism in the DM, but find little in the way of constructive proposals as to how things can be fixed. If the ANC is incapable of doing what is necessary, the opposition does not have enough raw support, then new creative leaders need to be identified and displayed. We know that such people are to be found among SA’s 60 plus million. DM and its readers should put more energy into creating a constructive national plan to fix things. Please protect us from lightweight, throwaway comments which merely take up air time! Let’s focus on stories of success and learn how to spread the causes of success. Whinging, blaming, insulting are not going to help.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      I like your comment in principle, yet ultimately you are also just pointing fingers. What about a constructive, visionary proposal how things can be changed.

    • Hidden Name says:

      Thats a fair amount of whining, dont you think?

    • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

      I agree with your comment. I find many comments at odds with DM stated purpose which is to share knowledge and experience. Sometimes this happens but overall, comments are mostly not focussed on that. I also agree it would be good to determine a specific forum where opinions can be tabled, but a separate forum where solutions and evidence-based discussion on potentially new ways (useful and pragmatic) could be tabled. Perhaps there are two fora, one for opinions, and one for problem solving?

      • Hermann Funk says:

        Some of us have suggested that the DM introduces a section “DM-Solutions” where only comments and constructive ideas are shared. Unfortunately, to no avail. Are they really listening to the their readers?

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      So? Vote DA. Last chance before Armageddon!

  • Rae Earl says:

    Ramaphosa could have started implementing ANC “renewal” the minute he became president in 2017 by simply purging his cabinet of dishonest and incompetent ministers and replacing them with people who could do an honest day’s work without looting the system. Instead he elected to keep all the bad eggs (his beloved ‘Collective’) and liaised closely with them to ensure that both he and they remained in situ by covering each others backs. That rot is now so deeply entrenched that it is irreversible and will assist greatly in the present party collapse now underway.

    • Ludovici DIVES says:

      Spot on and add to that the ANC’s mandate of party before country further entrenches and encourages racism, nepotism, entitlement, incompetence, cadre deployment, and corruption. Ramaphosa has lost his opportunity for any renewal if he ever had any.

  • Penny Philip says:

    Mbeki cannot point fingers. The lack of spending on maintenance at Eskom, Rand Water & Transnet started while he was in power. His lack of border control & ‘quiet diplomacy’ with Zimbabwe was purely aimed at protecting family mining interests in Zimbabwe & joint ownership with Zimbabwean partners in mines in DRC.

  • Annie Conway says:

    These folks in the anc don’t understand democracy and don’t want to understand it …..

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    The poor has lost hope and the only faction of this society extending a hand of any form of help and support is the private sector. The ANC does nothing for the poor. The ANC stole their dreams and trampled their hope and has no right to their support. Privatisation will not kill democracy. If people have human rights there will be democracy. If people have hospitals and schools and houses and transport there will be democracy. If the taxes paid by the rich and not so rich are not stolen and go to developing the country and to create better lives for all South Africa will certainly be a democracy at last.
    The only reason for resisting a status quo where capitalism supports a growing economy in a democratic society is the hunger for power, not to govern or distribute wealth, but for those in power to take from the poor in order to enrich themselves through the work and suffering of others –
    the only thing the ANC, under each and every president, has mastered.
    Who is Mbeki anyway to tell anybody what to do? Renew the ANC? To become what?

  • Chris Heymans says:

    The article deservedly draws attention, as the Mbeki presidency arguably brought the most substantial economic post-apartheid success. This was rooted in Mbeki’s strong Finance team led by Trevor Manual and National Treasury, and a constructive public-private relationship.

    But there stops this article’s economic wisdom, especially in the crude assertion that “privatisation is a double-edged sword, which can leave the rich with better services and the poor with almost nothing”. Of course, this might well hold some validity, but it simply misses the underlying logic of a constructive relationship between the public and private sectors. Public-private partnership over the past 15 years at least has been a distortion through cosy, secretive, crooked patronage within an elite. But it missed the essence of such partnerships in more successfully, ethically countries, much of which did apply in the first 15 post-apartheid years or so. Some PPPs then struggled to mature, but in several cases the public sector got it right, contracting private partners to perform functions earlier provided by the public sector. Through such arrangements there have been around 40 PPPs in South Africa since the 1990s, delivered with mixed results.

    Where there have been failures or misdemeanors, they were not intrinsically due to private sector involvement. Instead, public sector governance has all but collapsed in many parts of government since the Zuma years, made possible by a collapse of ethics in government, rather than due to private sector involvement. This has been facilitated greatly by under skilled staff in many public sector institutions, facilitated by cadre employment which intrinsically has little regard for professional management. This is where change must come, whether the ANC rules or not, or whether the private sector gets contracted or not. Failure to professionalize the system of public sector governance, is at the root of the malfunctioning of government in South Africa – NOT PPPs.

  • John Kannemeyer says:

    There are simple solutions which if managed correctly can provide help from Capital and Private concerns to those less advantaged. What if Netcare, Life Hospitals, Mediclinic etc, instead of paying corporate tax ran the government hospitals on behalf of the Dept of Health for free, this would remove the “middleman” with sticky fingers and remove the political interference of these institutions.

  • virginia crawford says:

    First, let’s remember Mbeki’s time in government and his response to criticism; he denied AIDS existed, ignored warnings about Eskom, defended the arms deal, and did not take kindly to criticism. A leopard does not change its spots, cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear etc. The ANC has utterly failed to govern or grow this country, and perhaps ‘resigning’ from the ANC would have more impact.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    The corruption started well before Zuma – it enabled him to get into office and lest we forget, it was Vavi and Malema, as heads of Cosatu and the Youth League respectively, who rammed Zuma through, and then walked away without so much as an apology when the Zuptas put corruption on steroids. It’s also not abated under Cyril ‘stuff it in the couch’ Ramaphosa. Moreover, Mbeki shows his denialist roots again by refusing to acknowledge this, or the fact that ‘our people’ have been ritually abused by the ANC State, to the point exhaustion. They’re not your people, Mbeki, South Africa is not your country – it’s ours, and you’ve pulverised it through corruption, cadre deployment and absolute ineptitude, where party fealty is prized over any kind of actual ability.

    If you’re so determined that ‘capital’ shouldn’t run the country, try actually running it properly as government. Except you can’t – or more pertinently, the ANC won’t run it properly as long as there are tenders to be dished out.

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