Should Thabo Mbeki launch a new party? *

September 22, 2008 § 3 Comments

By Khaya Dlanga

I read an interesting yet short article by Karima Brown on Business Day online. The following paragraphs caught my eye:

“Could firebrand African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema have an even bigger effect on South African politics than he dreams of?

“His demand that President Thabo Mbeki be stripped of his ANC membership could well be the Damascene moment that induces the birth of a powerful new opposition to the ANC. For months it has been whispered that Mbeki and his camp have been exploring the formation of a new party after his defeat by Jacob Zuma in Polokwane. Polls have been conducted, research commissioned, meetings held and stories spread.”

It would have been unwise and bordering on political and strategic retardation to strip Mbeki of his ANC membership. It would have been going very far — so far that it would have been beyond too far. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe dismissed these calls as mere rumours while on the television programme Interface.

Had the rumours been true, it would have been the best thing to have happened to Mbeki because that would have given him carte blanche to form his own party. Many like-minded people would have flocked to him; many of them with money. His party wouldn’t have won a majority, but the ANC wouldn’t have gained a two-thirds majority either, nor would it even have received 50% of the vote.

They need him in the ANC: not for his sake, but for the sake of the party to make life easier for the organisation. An opposition led by the former president would give the ANC a rather impossible migraine.

Now he has to toe the party line, and show that he is a dedicated and loyal member of the ANC who will do anything asked of him. After Zuma is sworn in as president, what will happen to him? Will the ANC discard him because he has achieved for it what it wanted? Without Mbeki, the ANC’s majority will be greatly reduced.

The ANC needs him more than it is willing to admit. Is it possible that he does not need the party as much?

There was a part of me that hoped that the ANC would be foolish enough to strip him of his membership. Not because I was hoping that he would be humiliated — on the contrary, I thought that it would be a great idea for him to head up a powerful opposition to the current ANC, which I have started to see as quickly devolving into an anarchist organisation. Of course that was my immediate emotional reaction at the time of his dismissal. His address to the nation did much to calm this line of thinking. He said: “I remain a member of the ANC, and therefore respect its decision. It is for this reason that I have taken the decision to resign as president of the republic.”

He is far too loyal to the ANC to leave it.

There are some level-headed moderates within the leadership structures of the ANC: the likes of Kgalema Motlanthe, Pallo Jordan and others — unfortunately we never hear them. We only ever hear those who shout from the rooftops that they would kill for Zuma. Mind you, not in defence of their nation or an ideology, but for a mere man. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard someone say they’d kill for Mandela, and there is a man worth dying for.

I have mixed feelings about the whole series of unfortunate events that has led us to this point. This is a painful moment for our nation. People are emotional. They are hurting. Let the victors not gloat for they have led one of their own to the slaughter. And like a lamb, he willingly walked there.

The ANC insists that the firing of Mbeki is not revenge. I don’t think that the public buys that. This is all so transparent. The purpose of Mbeki’s removal is to pave a path for Jacob Zuma’s ascension to the pinnacle. Plain and simple. No sugar-coating necessary. When power speaks nonsense to us, we should reply with truth.

Mbeki is too much of a loyal ANC man even to consider starting a new political party. But should he remain loyal to a party that he thinks has lost its way?

On the one hand, one can argue that it is better for him to stay in the ANC and try to reform it from within. If he forms a new political party, he will be accused of sulking.

One thing we have learnt from the events since Polokwane is that the ANC is reformable. Just because people with a different ideology now overrun it does not mean that it will remain this way forever. Evolution will happen in time.

Now we have to wait and see. What will the new elites do with their newfound power? Will it make them drunk and cause them to do the very same things of which they have accused Mbeki? Are they going to try to block the possible prosecution of the ANC president, Jacob Zuma? Should we as the public (or, as those in power like to refer to us, the masses, as though we are some objectionable vile disease) turn a blind eye from that hypocrisy?

If the new elites decide to drop all charges, then we have to make the assumption that the new executive too is unjust. If this is the case, then the ANC deserves to be punished at the polls by reducing its majority. It goes without saying that the ANC will win the next election. By squashing the appeal, then, they will not give Zuma his day in court, as he had so frequently demanded in the past.

We can only sit back and admire the president’s supporters’ reactions. There have been no shouts of “There will be blood on the streets if Thabo Mbeki is removed from office.” No threats of mayhem or a revolution. No “100% Xhosa-boy” T-shirts. No effigies of Zuma burnt to ashes. No tyres burning on the roads. No shops looted. His response was dignified. Presidential. His supporters have respected the decision made by the ANC. He stepped down with humility and asked for unity. He addressed the nation. We listened. The nation was calm during a very uneasy period.

After Polokwane, the world’s top ratings agencies said: “South Africa’s prudent monetary policy framework would stay in place with room for some flexibility on spending. We do not see a sharp change in policies.”

If we have strong fundaments, then, to quote the guy that I’d like to leave me his estate when he dies, Warren Buffet: “You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will.”

I think that is the important thing about South Africa. We should protect our institutions and the Constitution for this reason. They should be so strong that when and if a fool does take over at some point, we don’t fall apart. For now, I don’t think we will fall apart. There is too much at stake. The new leadership is not bent on destroying the country.

To quote the president as he announced his resignation to the nation: “Our strength as a people is not tested during the best of times. We should never be despondent because the weather is bad. Nor should we turn triumphalist because the sun is shining.”

The new comrade elites would serve themselves well to heed these words. Now that the sun is shining for them, what will they do?

Now is not the time for personal vendettas.

Mbeki was far from a perfect president, but he has been the best we have ever had. Can we do better than Mbeki? Yes, we can. That is what we always hope for, that each successive generation will give us better leaders. My only hope is that we get better leadership sooner rather than later.

South Africa is a better country than it has been for the past few years.

* Originally published on 22 September,

South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki Fired/Resigns

September 21, 2008 § 1 Comment

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