Yesterday’s statesman relegated to a World Cup footnote
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.