MAGASHULE’S LETTER EXPOSES FAILURE OF MBEKI’S RULE
SUSPENDED ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has penned a scathing 2 923-word letter to former president of the ANC and the country, Thabo Mbeki.
In the missive, shared by Ace’s ally Carl Niehaus, Magashule went out guns blazing at Mbeki, calling him out on alleged multiple leadership contradictions, hypocrisy, gender-based violence and personality shortfalls.
For all its ferociousness, the letter should not be read as a genuine attempt at discussing Mbeki’s legacy; it is a vindictive response to Mbeki’s lambasting of Magashule as corrupt.
Another problem with the letter is that Magashule is not qualified to deliver this kind of message, given his own ethical shortcomings, proneness to corruption and disregard for ANC policies.
Magashule’s letter is credible only to the extent that it exposes some of the disastrous leadership failures of Mbeki’s presidential terms – some of which seem forgotten by history, in the light of the dark days of Zuma’s administration following Mbeki’s exit.
It begs the question, is Mbeki’s seemingly “moral high ground” validated through his leadership legacy?
To answer this, an assessment of Mbeki’s political actions following his departure as president of the ANC is a fitting place to start.
In the immediate years following his humiliating defeat in Polokwane, Mbeki became aloof, both politically and socially. In retrospect, the handover of power in Polokwane was telling of Mbeki’s immediate involvement in ANC politics.
Following the announcement, Mbeki was swiftly ushered off the stage and away from the spotlight – he would disappear from the public eye in years to come.
It was only in 2016, eight years later, that Mbeki began to creep back into public life through national weekly letters aimed at setting the record straight on unanswered questions and contentious issues around his presidency.
The timing of Mbeki’s letters could not have been more political. In the book Apocalypse 2016-2019: Decline of Jacob Zuma, Rise of South Africa? John Mattison illustrates how the decline of Jacob Zuma effectively began in 2016.
At that time, Zuma’s leadership was in a perpetual state of crisis. The damning Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla, an impeachment attempt in Parliament, and Thuli Madonsela’s State Capture report of October 2016 placed tremendous pressure on Zuma’s presidency.
By 2016, all of South Africa witnessed Mbeki’s prophecy come true. Vindication has a good way of (re) articulating the past and the present in highly favourable and romanticised terms for the vindicated.
Mbeki’s moment of vindication in 2016 fabricated nostalgic fever around his presidential terms of office and encouraged the narrative that his leadership of the ANC and the country was exemplary. Some even went as far as calling for his re-election.
Narratives of this kind, however, are highly misleading. It would be a grave travesty if Mbeki’s vindication is taken to mean his validation as a leader of the ANC and the country. It is something that Mbeki must not utilise to his advantage.
Mbeki’s detractors must also realise that legacy warrants an analysis far beyond Aids denialism, the arms deal scandal, quiet diplomacy in Zimbabwe, the Winnie Mandela incident, or the gross mortification of Archbishop Tutu. These are insincere arguments that, at most times, are presented in ways negligent of the complex landscape in which they emerged.
Instead, the legacy of Mbeki must be understood through what his leadership left behind for the ANC and the country. To this end, it must be stated that Mbeki’s leadership exhibited one ultimate flaw – that being its ineptness to self-contradiction, commitment to fervent individualism and assumed entitlement of the ANC and the country.