Thabo Mbeki knew the only way Jacob Zuma could be president of the Republic was through his leadership of the ANC. If Mbeki had emerged victorious in Polokwane, his victory would have saved South Africa from the careless and irresponsible leadership of which the Zuma-led government is the epitome. Because he cared about the future of South Africa, Mbeki stood up against what he had already concluded was bad for the country. And he was right. The ANC will be judged harshly by history for this moment of poor judgment.
In the rush to the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) infamous national congress in Polokwane, it was almost a given that President Jacob Zuma would beat Thabo Mbeki for the ANC throne. It is incomprehensible that Mbeki, given his intellectual astuteness and understanding not just of the ANC cadres but the nuances inherent in the run-up to any election, did not see this coming. Mbeki is an intellectual giant whose comprehension of politics in his country, continent and the globe is uncontested. Based on this fact alone, Mbeki should have known that he was going to lose the election in Polokwane. If he did not foresee this, then many of us may have overestimated the men’s intellectual abilities. For the purposes of my argument, Mbeki is still intellectually intact. The question that still lingers, despite his intellectual savvy, is: “Why did he still stand?”
This reminds me of the sturdy discussion between Cassius and Brutus in the 16th century Shakespearean tragedy Julius Caesar, where the former convinces the latter that Caesar had too much power and was ready to sacrifice Rome in his selfish escapades. The cunning Cassius manages to induce Brutus into believing that indeed Caesar was no longer acting in the interests of Rome and that he (Brutus) should put paid to the leader’s infatuation with power all in the name of “not loving Caesar less, but loving Rome more”. As legend has it, Brutus would kill Caesar not because he “loved him less” but because “he loved Rome more”.
Did we see a near re-enactment of this set of circumstances in the 21st century in the north of our country when Mbeki decided to stand against an “unstoppable Tsunami” in an election he knew too well he would not win? Can we safely say that Mbeki “did not love the ANC less” but “he loved South Africa more”?
If there is anyone who knew and still knows Zuma’s abilities and limitations, it is Mbeki. Mbeki worked with Zuma for many years both in exile and after the unbanning of the ANC. Zuma even became his deputy in the ANC and government until his sacking in 2005 due to his unholy alliance with a certain Schabir Shaik. Former president Nelson Mandela himself knew about Zuma’s abilities and limitations, as revealed in the 2006 forensic report on Zuma’s finances, which showed Mandela gave Zuma R1-million to help settle his debts. The report also says a total of 783 payments were also made to Zuma by his former financial adviser Shaik, amounting to more than R4-million. Zuma also benefited from several businessmen, including his nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, and Durban businessman Vivian Reddy. The report says large commercial banks bent over backwards to accommodate Zuma because of his political position, writing off bad debt against his name.
Now that he is president, the limitations of Zuma’s leadership have been exposed. Besides his decisive actions aimed at destroying every institution in our democracy, the Nkandla question, the Marikana massacre and the criticism of the judiciary will perhaps remain the most elaborate blots on his legacy. The rule of law does not apply when the ruling party sets itself above the law, ignores the judiciary and the Constitution and acts arbitrarily without a mandate.
Throughout his leadership, Zuma has exposed himself as careless and irresponsible both in office and in his dealings as a private person. If his former spokesman’s recent statements about creating “a culture of taking responsibility for our actions” (in reference to the Nkandla scandal) are anything to go by, then the man is nothing but a liability to the country.
I want to believe that Mbeki knew he was going to lose the election in Polokwane but had to stand for the sake of a young democratic South Africa that “he loved more”. The undertone of his actions can be interpreted as stating that no matter what happens in the ANC, South Africa should not suffer as a direct consequence of its actions.
Mbeki knew the only way Zuma could be president of the Republic was through his leadership of the ANC. He had to be stopped or at least an alternative had to be provided to the delegates of congress who were assumed to be rational human beings who had a positive vision for the party and the country as a whole. This was an oversight on Mbeki’s part. The ANC cadres forum has evolved into a predator willing to watch as our country descends into a kleptocracy. The delegates, therefore, were machines that went to Polokwane to get rid of Mbeki and ordain the man from KZN.
If Mbeki had emerged victorious in Polokwane, his victory would have saved South Africa from the careless and irresponsible leadership of which the Zuma-led government is the epitome. Again, because he cared about the future of South Africa, Mbeki stood up against what he had already concluded was bad for the country. And he was right. The ANC will be judged harshly by history for this moment of poor judgment. It will take more than a decade to fix the mess Zuma caused in our modern economy and democracy.
Whether Mbeki indeed “did not love the ANC less” but “loved South Africa more” during the historical moment of Polokwane; will depend on what he says in his much awaited memoirs. Given his role in the history of South Africa, his life story ought to be told – by himself. DM
Dlanjwa is a young entrepreneur and former Economic Freedom Fighters junior researcher at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. He writes in his personal capacity.
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