Yes­ter­day’s states­man rel­e­gated to a World Cup foot­note

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THE CRUSHED politician is a rare phe­nom­e­non. Most of those dumped from of­fice, whether by the elec­torate or their party, don’t eas­ily rec­on­cile to ob­scu­rity. In­stead they nurse their griev­ances and start plot­ting a come­back.

For­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki ap­pears to be an ex­cep­tion. When his party spite­fully “re­called” him with just months of his ter m re­main­ing, spec­u­la­tion was that this haughty man would re­spond to the hu­mil­i­a­tion by lead­ing a po­lit­i­cal break­away.

In­stead, Mbeki swal­lowed his pride and donned the hair­shirt of the dis­ci­plined, self­less cadre, serv­ing at the whim of the ANC to which he has de­voted his life since child­hood. The self-de­struc­tive ten- den­cies of Cope – which splin­tered from the ANC in protest at Mbeki’s sack­ing – no doubt con­firmed to him the wis­dom of choos­ing the low­pro­file, du­ti­ful ser­vant role.

Nev­er­the­less, it must be a shock for Mbeki to ex­pe­ri­ence how rapidly yes­ter­day’s states­man can be dis­carded.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ded­i­ca­tion of the World Cup to for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela.

While Man­dela’s charisma, and the world­wide ven­er­a­tion in which he is held, were un­doubt­edly cru­cial to se­cur­ing the tour­na­ment, it was ac­tu­ally Mbeki’s govern­ment which pi­loted the host­ing cam­paign.

Not once, but twice. Mbeki poured mil­lions of rands in govern­ment fund­ing into the bid for the 2006 Cup – which went to Ger­many by a New Zealand whisker – and then the suc­cess­ful 2010 bid. For that he re­ceives a pro­gramme foot­note.

Mbeki pos­si­bly shrugs this off as a case of the prophet not be­ing hon­oured in his own land.

The proph­e­sier of the African Re­nais­sance, who al­ways pre­ferred the world stage, will prob­a­bly be more deeply wounded by the lack of in­ter­na­tional ac­knowl­edg­ment for his achieve­ments.

Many thought Mbeki a shoo-in for the Ibrahim Prize, which cel­e­brates ex­cel­lence in African gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship.

It is awarded to na­tional lead­ers who, in the care­fully phrased words of the Mo Ibrahim Foun­da­tion, “have served their term in of­fice within the lim­its set by the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion” and left of­fice in the past three years.

In other words, if you are one of Africa’s few big men who has be­haved with a mod­icum of de­cency to your cit­i­zens and then ex­ited vol­un­tar­ily, you are set for a pay-off of $5 mil­lion over 10 years and then $200 000 an­nu­ally for life.

Sure it’s a bribe, but con­sider it to be from the an­gels.

Pre­vi­ous prize lau­re­ates are Joaquim Chissano of Mozam­bique and Fes­tus Mo­gae of Botswana.

Mbeki was tipped to win last year for his ef­forts to pull Africa into the main­stream of world pol­i­tics, but the prize com­mit­tee abruptly de­cided that there was no suit­able can­di­date.

This week the com­mit­tee, which in­cludes Man­dela’s wife Graça Machel, an­nounced that there was no 2010 win­ner ei­ther.

Mbeki’s ef­forts to raise Africa’s in­ter­na­tional pro­file were con­sid­er­able. But it is dif­fi­cult to see how the prize could go to a man who, among other do­mes­tic fail­ures, sen­tenced an es­ti­mated 300 000 HIV-pos­i­tive South Africans to pre­ma­ture graves be­cause of his ec­cen­tric med­i­cal the­o­ries.

Mean­while, the in­ter­nal ex­ile of Mbeki con­tin­ues.

A fort­night ago Mbeki pre­sented the inaugural ad­dress at his cre- ation, the Thabo Mbeki African Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute at the Uni­ver­sity of South Africa.

It was vin­tage Mbeki, an eru­dite ex­po­si­tion of how Africa was once more drift­ing to the pe­riph­ery of global af­fairs.

Con­sid­er­ing the oc­ca­sion and that it was Mbeki’s first pub­lic ad­dress since his oust­ing from the ANC, who would have thought it would merit only three news­pa­per re­ports?

It did not even make it on to an SABC news bul­letin, once the slav­ish pur­vey­ors of his ev­ery ut­ter­ance.

Truly yes­ter­day’s man. For now. Grow­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Zuma may yet put a ret­ro­spec­tive sheen on the Mbeki years.

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