How to build on mixed lega­cies

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - QUITE FRANKLY Frankly Let’s Talk

Ta­bane is au­thor of and host of Power Per­spec­tive on Power 987 Sun­days to Thurs­days 9pm to mid­night

EV­ERY pres­i­dent has a mixed le­gacy. Last week, Power987 gave us an op­por­tu­nity to as­sess the le­gacy of Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki as he turned 75, and it has trig­gered the nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tion that we need to be hav­ing as a na­tion.

It was an evening of dis­cov­ery on what we may never have known about how the man re­flects on his own le­gacy, his re­grets and non-re­grets.

But some­times I won­der whether peo­ple around lead­ers tell them the truth about how they come across, be­cause where Mbeki is con­cerned, even the ANC took months to tell him that on the HIV/Aids ques­tion, he al­ways comes across badly. An ac­knowl­edge­ment that he stuffed up the gov­ern­ment ap­proach on this ques­tion would go a long way.

For me it’s not about the sci­en­tific cor­rect­ness or even the me­thod­i­cal ap­proach to the dis­ease – as that ques­tion was set­tled not by the Mbeki ad­min­is­tra­tion’s good heart but by the courts, which had to be re­sorted to by civil so­ci­ety. It was quite frankly about what mes­sage a head of state ought to have been com­mu­ni­cat­ing to or­di­nary peo­ple about a dis­ease such as the one killing so many un­der his watch. Case closed. The rest is aca­demic. The re­al­ity is that the Treat­ment Ac­tion Cam­paign had to go to court twice to drag the Mbeki ad­min­is­tra­tion to do the right thing on HIV/Aids.

Sim­i­larly, there is a huge le­gacy that Mbeki left be­hind – the le­gacy of the African re­nais­sance. This isn’t ex­plored enough, and he isn’t given enough credit for it.

The African Peer Re­view Mech­a­nism was his brain­child, and more than 30 African coun­tries are now sig­na­to­ries of this tool of self-re­flec­tion. That is why I re­main dis­ap­pointed about his in­sis­tence that quiet diplo­macy was the way to go on Zim­babwe.

On the ques­tion of Zim­babwe, Botswana Pres­i­dent Ian Khama is a bet­ter states­man, whose ap­proach is more in line with the re­nais­sance of Africa than Mbeki’s mol­ly­cod­dling ap­proach to Robert Mu­gabe.

The African re­nais­sance man must be able to say clearly that democ­racy in Africa must start to mean that lead­ers must know when it’s time to go. In the case of Mbeki, it’s a fact that he mis­read the mood ahead of Polok­wane by in­sist­ing on a third term in of­fice, re­sult­ing in the Zuma pres­i­dency.

In this re­gard, he seems to be in good com­pany, with many of the lead­ers of our con­ti­nent cling­ing to power in what­ever form or shape.

This is the mixed le­gacy of Mbeki. On the one hand, he ac­cen­tu­ated the African agenda and con­tin­ued to live that le­gacy, be­ing an in­stru­ment of peace on the con­ti­nent. On the other hand, he didn’t fol­low his own ad­vice in set­ting an ex­am­ple for other African lead­ers to let go of power when their sun has set, in­stead of ar­gu­ing, for ex­am­ple, that Zim­bab­weans must be left alone to solve their own prob­lems.

To­mor­row we cel­e­brate an­other icon in Nel­son Man­dela; an­other fig­ure with a mixed le­gacy.

It is dif­fi­cult to have a ro­bust con­ver­sa­tion where Man­dela and Mbeki are con­cerned be­cause both their statures gen­er­ate fan­fare. But given the free­dom we all fought for, we shouldn’t be afraid.

Quite Frankly, Man­dela didn’t help us re­solve the na­tional ques­tion ad­e­quately, hence the up­surge of racism and so­cial dis­cord 23 years into our democ­racy re­mains. His rain­bow na­tion ap­proach served only to pa­per over the cracks of the deep-seated cri­sis of na­tional iden­tity, and un­der his lead­er­ship, Codesa de­liv­ered div­i­dends to only one part of the pop­u­la­tion, while leav­ing the ma­jor­ity land­less.

In­ter­est­ingly the first per­son to con­tra­dict the sani­tised rain­bow nar­ra­tive was Mbeki. In one of his sem­i­nal speeches, he de­scribed South Africa as two na­tions: one poor and black; the other white and rich. No rain­bow there.

Mbeki placed a more re­al­is­tic pic­ture of our lived re­al­ity as a coun­try on the ta­ble, and this adds a pos­i­tive to his le­gacy. The big­ger ques­tion, how­ever, is: What fol­low-through was there in terms of pol­icy im­pact to merge the two na­tions into one?

Between Man­dela and Mbeki, cu­mu­la­tively and in­ad­ver­tently, we have been left high and dry on bed­ding down the most fun­da­men­tal in­ter­ven­tions to take the coun­try for­ward.

So as we go about do­ing our 67 min­utes, we need to get into a more ro­bust mode of in­ter­ro­ga­tion of what lead­ers like Mbeki and Man­dela be­queathed us as a na­tion and what our role to­day should be to build on their mixed and im­per­fect lega­cies.

What can help is to ask our­selves: How can we re­vive Man­dela’s vi­sion for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with­out un­der­min­ing the de­pri­va­tion of the have-nots? How can we ac­cen­tu­ate Mbeki’s African re­nais­sance by en­sur­ing that we break the back of poor lead­er­ship among our African lead­ers, char­ac­terised mostly by a re­luc­tance to ac­count to the peo­ple.

How can we give a new life to the new strug­gle for eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion? Mbeki and Man­dela, in a sense, spear­headed the ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal moral­ity. Man­dela is seen as a paragon of moral­ity, and Mbeki still spends days look­ing at ques­tions of global cor­rup­tion by fight­ing il­licit flows of cap­i­tal.

How can we build on both these lega­cies to in­crease the fight against graft in or­der to re­di­rect those scarce re­sources to­wards clos­ing the in­equal­ity gap?

These lead­ers have done their part in an­swer­ing these ques­tions; we must do ours by bright­en­ing the cor­ner where we are in their hon­our.

Wish­ing you a pro­found Man­dela Day and hop­ing that you will use your 67 min­utes to re­visit your role in build­ing on the pos­i­tive as­pects of his le­gacy and cor­rect

LEAD­ERS: Thabo Mbeki and Nel­son Man­dela left dif­fer­ent lega­cies, which a demo­cratic South Africa finds it­self nav­i­gat­ing through.

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