High drama as Mbeki re­signs

Some key events from this week in his­tory are re­flected in the fol­low­ing re­ports from the ar­chives of the Argus’s 160-year-old ti­tles

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

THABO Mbeki faced the most dif­fi­cult mo­ment of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer when, in mid-Septem­ber 2008, his party re­quired him to bid farewell to the peo­ple of South Africa as their sec­ond demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent.

Mbeki had come to power with Nel­son Man­dela’s bless­ing, and with what promised to be a broad vi­sion of South African and African ren­o­va­tion.

As Mbeki’s pres­i­dency wore on, he stum­bled on Aids and Zim­babwe, and showed him­self to be prone to para­noia and ran­cour – but earned con­sid­er­able credit for ap­pear­ing to strike a blow for clean gov­ern­ment when, in the wake of cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against his deputy, Ja­cob Zuma, he over­saw Zuma’s ax­e­ing in 2005.

This ap­peared to cost him his job when, three years later, Zuma re­gained his sta­tus in the party and Mbeki was forced to go.

The re­port of Septem­ber 22, 2008, head­lined “Don’t de­spair, Mbeki tells the na­tion”, de­scribed his “mea­sured farewell ad­dress to the peo­ple of South Africa”, broad­cast live on TV and ra­dio.

He urged “com­rades and coun­try not to lose heart, but to press on in the strug­gle for jobs, eq­uity, se­cu­rity, fair­ness… and gov­er­nance free of cor­rup­tion”. “South Africa be­gins a new week to­day in an at­mos­phere of high drama,” the re­port said.

“Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki has re­signed and will leave of­fice within days. At­ten­tion turns to the kind of South Africa Jabob Zuma’s ANC en­vi­sions, which, un­til clear pol­icy state­ments clar­ify mat­ters, re­mains the sub­ject of widely diver­gent spec­u­la­tion.”

Mbeki used his farewell ad­dress “to em­pha­sise his and the lib­er­a­tion move­ment’s con­vic­tion in the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary, though em­phat­i­cally re­jected sug­ges­tions that he had in­ter­fered po­lit­i­cally in the at­tempt to have his pow­er­ful con­tender Ja­cob Zuma pros­e­cuted for fraud and cor­rup­tion”. He made “no di­rect ref­er­ence to the power strug­gle that has ob­sessed the party for months and con­sumed the na­tional de­bate”, though “made it plain he re­jected Judge Chris Ni­chol­son’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of events in the long- run­ning Zuma saga, say­ing that nei­ther he nor the cab­i­net had in­ter­fered with the work of the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity or the courts, and it was un­for­tu­nate that the in­tegrity of the gov­ern­ment had been im­pugned”.

He made “re­peated ref­er­ences to the ANC’s com­mit­ment to fight­ing ‘ crime and cor­rup­tion’”, and “dwelt on the suc­cesses of his and his pre­de­ces­sor Nel­son Man­dela’s ad­min­is­tra­tions in striv­ing to im­prove the lot of all South Africans, in achiev­ing eco­nomic sta­bil­ity and growth and in ad­vanc­ing the cause of free­dom and democ­racy through­out Africa”.

There was “no room for com­pla­cency, and the strug­gle for de­vel­op­ment, eq­uity, jobs, poverty re­lief, se­cu­rity and cor­rup­tion- free gov­ern­ment re­mained a vi­tal goal”.

Mbeki said: “Try­ing times need courage and res­o­lu­tion”, adding that “our strength as a peo­ple is not to be tested in the best of times”.

Iron­i­cally, per­haps, “Mbeki’s ‘ mag­nif­i­cent’ res­ig­na­tion” – in the phrase of the head­line of Septem­ber 22 – was hailed by po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts as a mas­terly ad­dress, “one of the best, if not his sec­ond best to his mile­stone ‘I am an African’ speech”.

Among the pun­dits, Dr Adam Habib, then a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst with the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil, de­scribed Mbeki’s speech as “mag­nif­i­cent”, and con­trasted it with his apartheid pre­de­ces­sor PW Botha’s ef­fort when he was forced to re­sign by his party in 1989.

Botha took the op­por­tu­nity to pub­licly chas­tise his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents within his party and in the gov­ern­ment.

In sim­i­lar vein, Aubrey Mat­shiqi of the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies said Mbeki “could eas­ily just have an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion in a ‘sulky way’, but he in­stead ad­dressed his peo­ple”.

Pa­tri­cia de Lille, then the leader of the In­de­pen­dent Democrats, ob­served: “Mbeki is al­ways so aloof. This was the first time I saw some emo­tion – some pas­sion – in his ad­dress. He con­nected well with the peo­ple of this coun­try tonight.” The most pointed ques­tions of the day were raised in a front page ed­i­to­rial in the Week­end Argus of Septem­ber 21, prophet­i­cally head­lined: “Which Zuma? Which ANC?”.

While it noted of Mbeki that “few will have sym­pa­thy” for him, given his “Machi­avel­lian streak and ruth­less dis­re­gard for any­body per­ceived as a threat”, weak­nesses that “have played cen­tral roles in the drama that reached its de­noue­ment yes­ter­day”, it went on to fo­cus at­ten­tion on Zuma.

It said: “The rest of the world will be watch­ing South Africa with alarm and, what­ever the ANC’s new le­gion of hot­heads might think, the glob­al­is­ing world and the need for in­vest­ment do mean that in­ter­na­tional con­fi­dence is an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to the coun­try’s suc­cess.

“So which Zuma will they and anx­ious South Africans see emerge in the com­ing months? The one who says that he re­spects the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary, or the one who re­mains silent when ANC Youth League pres­i­dent Julius Malema makes state­ments patently de­signed to in­tim­i­date judges? Will Zuma be the man who says he re­spects free­dom of ex­pres­sion, or the one who sues car­toon­ists?

“Will he pur­sue the con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic poli­cies which have fos­tered growth in re­cent years, or will he ac­cede to the de­mands of his more rad­i­cal al­lies?”

Few, ar­guably, are left in any doubt about the an­swers to­day.


Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in Par­lia­ment.

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