SA has lost respect in Africa: Mbeki
JOHANNESBURG — Former President Thabo Mbeki said South Africa has lost the respect of countries, both in Africa and globally, which had invested in its success.
Speaking in Johannesburg on Friday night at the launch of The Thabo Mbeki I Know, a book written by various contributors about him, Mbeki said it told the story “of how much Africa and the rest of the world invested in the success of this country”.
Mbeki said, “as I wander around the continent, this is a refrain that we meet right across the continent: ‘what has gone wrong with SA?’
“It is everywhere. Everywhere [is] loss of respect for the South Africans. Who wants to listen to the South Africans? And that is reality, that is the practicality, that is the situation.”
Referring to two guest speakers, former Botswana president Ketumile Masire, and former Swedish ambassador to South Africa Anders Möllander, Mbeki said people from all over the world selflessly helped South Africa because they had a sense of commitment to the struggle and of responsibility.
Mbeki also said a man like former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere had the same sense of commitment, and once told him: “I’m your messenger, send me anywhere you want.”
Mbeki, to admiring gasps from the audience, said that didn’t say something about himself, but rather of the quality of leadership Nyerere possessed.
“He is my mentor, my leader, whatever, but he has the grace, the discipline to say to this younger fellow that it’s clear that you are going to do things for Africa. Forget that I’m your leader I’m your messenger.
Mbeki said likewise when the Swedes got involved in the struggle against apartheid, “if there was a victory they would be part of the victory, if there was a failure they would be part of the failure.”
During an earlier panel discussion at the launch, Möllander said he wanted to remind South Africans of their achievements after a very violent transition in 1994.
He said people asked him after the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, when Mbeki was replaced by President Jacob Zuma in a bruising elections battle, whether that was the end of South Africa as people knew it, and whether the country would go down the drain.
“I said I don’t believe so, the Constitution was strong,” Möllander said.
Former minister Alec Erwin, who resigned in 2008 after Mbeki’s recall, said the danger in South Africa was that there was not really a political party that could take the country forward in the cause of humanity.
He said South Africans had to find “nobility of the human spirit” again, “otherwise this period we are in will be quite dark for a while”.
Erwin also warned that economic transformation would not happen overnight, but it was a process. “We planned the programme, which we knew would take some years”.
He said the government was out by 10 years, but had built up enough funds by 2007 to address the problems on the ground. “That moment escaped us,” he said, in reference to the handover of power to Zuma.
Ex-ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza, a former trustee of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation board, said the book was “necessary to put before the people of the world the real Thabo Mbeki”.
She said there were many Mbekis out there which were “vilified” and “misrepresented”, and those who knew him didn’t recognise him in those descriptions.
Thabo Mbeki Foundation CEO Max Boqwana said the book wasn’t about polishing Mbeki’s image, but rather linking the work of the country’s forebearers with the present.