Sunday Times

Mbeki’s in­ter­ven­tion on land col­lides head-on with the di­rec­tion of the new, greedy ANC

- BAR­NEY MTHOMBOTHI South Africa Politics · South Africa News · Politics · African Politics · Thabo Mbeki · African National Congress · Julius Malema · Nelson Mandela · Jacob Zuma · Economic Freedom Fighters · Morogoro · National Party (South Africa)

By writ­ing a 30-page thought­ful de­nun­ci­a­tion of land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion, the ide­o­log­i­cal panacea of our time, Thabo Mbeki has thrown him­self back into the po­lit­i­cal thicket. And a good thing it is too. Read­ing the doc­u­ment, one gets the im­pres­sion this could be a teach­able mo­ment for many in Mbeki’s own party, in­clud­ing some in the lead­er­ship. They didn’t fully com­pre­hend the im­pli­ca­tion of shame­lessly — and cow­ardly — hang­ing on to Julius Malema’s coat­tails on the land is­sue. By so do­ing, they’ve thus changed the char­ac­ter and mis­sion of the ANC.

It has be­come some­thing of an un­writ­ten rule that for­mer pres­i­dents shy away from delv­ing into cur­rent de­bates, let alone crit­i­cise their suc­ces­sors on is­sues. They’re not sup­posed to be seen or heard. Which is a pity be­cause their lived ex­pe­ri­ence, good or bad, can en­rich our pub­lic dis­course. They’d bring a per­spec­tive that’s of­ten over­looked or lost to those too close to the coal­face. They’ve had the lux­ury of hav­ing sat back and sur­veyed the land­scape. Un­like ac­tive politi­cians, they aren’t al­ways hell­bent on win­ning every ar­gu­ment. They have noth­ing to lose.

The irony of course is that it was Mbeki who, as pres­i­dent, un­leashed his dogs, so to speak, to si­lence his pre­de­ces­sor, Nel­son Man­dela, who, af­ter leav­ing of­fice, had mildly crit­i­cised Mbeki’s ob­ses­sion with Aids — which was to deny that HIV causes the dis­ease. At the time, the dis­ease was wreak­ing havoc in the coun­try. Man­dela was hauled be­fore an ANC kan­ga­roo court where peo­ple, who not long be­fore that had revered him as their leader, ha­rangued him and told him off. He went away to lick his wounds, and stayed clear from party matters or any­thing to do with gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

Like­wise Mbeki pre­ferred to keep his own coun­sel af­ter he was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously bun­dled out of power by the ANC. He didn’t ut­ter a word even as Ja­cob Zuma mer­rily plun­dered and looted with im­punity. He made a cameo ap­pear­ance, but again to de­fend his con­tentious stance on HIV/Aids.

The lat­est in­ter­ven­tion is dif­fer­ent. He’s col­lided head-on with ANC pol­icy or di­rec­tion. It’s al­most as if he’s say­ing those in charge of the or­gan­i­sa­tion nei­ther know what they’re do­ing nor un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tion of their ac­tions. As if to school the unini­ti­ated, he charts the evo­lu­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion from its found­ing in 1912 and some of its ma­jor events and hic­cups — the draft­ing of the Free­dom Char­ter in Klip­town in 1955, the break­away of the African­ists in 1958, the ex­pul­sion of the so-called Gang of Eight af­ter the 1969 Moro­goro con­fer­ence etc — which shaped its “his­tor­i­cal mis­sion”, which is to unite all the coun­try’s peo­ple un­der a non­ra­cial ban­ner, in line with the Free­dom Char­ter, the ul­ti­mate guide for pol­icy for­mu­la­tion.

In de­cid­ing on land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion, Mbeki ar­gues, the ANC has vi­o­lated two fun­da­men­tal pre­scrip­tions of the Free­dom Char­ter: that SA be­longs to all who live in it, black and white; and that the land shall be shared among those who work it.

“If the ANC aban­dons these two prin­ci­pled and strate­gic po­si­tions”, he says, “it must ac­cept that it is turn­ing its back on its his­tor­i­cal po­si­tion as ‘the par­lia­ment of the peo­ple’.”

Ex­pro­pri­at­ing land from one na­tional group with­out com­pen­sa­tion and hand­ing it to an­other na­tional group “came across as rep­re­sent­ing a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from poli­cies faith­fully sus­tained by the ANC dur­ing 105 years of its ex­is­tence”.

It was tan­ta­mount to say­ing, ‘SA be­longs to all who live in it, black and white, ex­cept as this re­lates to land’, and ‘All na­tional groups are equal be­fore the law, ex­cept as this con­cerns land!’.

The pa­per is bound to pro­voke strong re­ac­tion on ei­ther side of the land de­bate, es­pe­cially Mbeki’s as­ser­tion that the ANC, in tag­ging along with the EFF on the is­sue, has not merely voted for a piece of leg­is­la­tion, but has changed the very char­ac­ter and mis­sion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“The ar­gu­ment that has been ad­vanced by the ANC lead­er­ship since the 54th na­tional con­fer­ence about the Land Ques­tion com­mu­ni­cates the firm state­ment that the ANC has changed in terms of its char­ac­ter. It is no longer a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple of SA.

“Rather, as its for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said, it is a black party.” Quite an in­dict­ment.

The ANC has al­ways re­garded it­self as an an­ti­dote or bul­wark against the Na­tional Party’s pol­icy of di­vid­ing peo­ple along racial lines. Mbeki fears that, as a re­sult of a change in its land pol­icy, the ANC is likely to fol­low in the foot­steps of the apartheid regime, with win­ners and losers chang­ing places.

But some peo­ple blame Mbeki him­self for chang­ing the ANC’s char­ac­ter, from an or­gan­i­sa­tion that proudly es­poused its non­ra­cial ethos to one with African­ist ten­den­cies. But the or­gan­i­sa­tion would have changed re­gard­less of who’s in charge. It’s now op­er­at­ing in a dif­fer­ent set­ting. It is no longer wag­ing a thank­less lib­er­a­tion war away in the deserts of ex­ile, but it’s now back home in the lap of lux­ury and in charge of the most so­phis­ti­cated econ­omy on the con­ti­nent. It’s no longer led by the self­less, wise old men and women who sac­ri­ficed ev­ery­thing for the good of all, but it’s now con­trolled by BEE types, shys­ters, a thug or two and the odd mur­derer, all in it for a slice of the ac­tion. Greed now trumps self­less­ness.

The ANC has changed be­cause the ter­rain has changed. It is at­tract­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of cadre, only in it for his own stom­ach.

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