City Press 30: Politics, a game of emotion

2012-03-15 10:13

To celebrate thirty years of City Press, we feature gems from our archive.

Political science is what they teach you at university, but real politics is anything but a science.

It is a messy, emotionally charged chess game where almost nothing can be explained or predicted beforehand, but afterwards everything seems crystal clear.

Take the debate around former president Thabo Mbeki and his return to domestic politics, which City Press reported on this past Sunday.

The story gave rise to immense criticism, but behind the scenes, immense emotion.

Through social media and other means we were told: don’t play with our feelings, guys, don’t raise our hopes that he’s back if he’s not.

For some, talk of Mbeki’s return was like hearing the ex-boyfriend you never got over was into you again.

You don’t want to believe it, because you still think he’s an asshole, but you can’t help feeling the start of that familiar buzz.

You wilfully remind yourself of all his mistakes – his stance on HIV and Zimbabwe – you remember all his flaws – arrogance and stubbornness – but your mind keeps wandering back to the good times.

To how he was willing to tell the West things which no one else would, and they’d still politely applaud him because of his intellectual astuteness. How his vision was one you could buy into and his work ethic one you could aspire to.

Mbeki has finally become what, in his hearts of hearts, he wanted to be – the consummate statesman.

He rose above the ANC, becoming the elder whose mistakes were severe and unforgiveable, but he won and is being kept in the hearts and minds of a significant chunk of the ANC, South Africa and some in the rest of the world.

His supporters decry the lack of intellectualism in the current administration and the lack of vision. They like the fact that the cleverest person in the room was also the one who worked the hardest, and would put his minions (aka cabinet members) to shame in discussions about their own portfolios.

Mbeki’s return comes at a time when the non-Zuma ANC needs a patron, and Mbeki is the perfect choice. He still pulls an enormous amount of respect, he has a better governance record than the current guy (the growth may have been jobless but it is still growth) and he doesn’t have a bevy of kids and wives to embarrass him or us.

Until now his attitude has been “no thank you” when suggestions were made for him to step back into the local limelight.

But this time his spokesperson says Mbeki will talk to anyone if he has the time. While before he outright rejected the notion of getting involved in domestic politics, as Julius Malema had asked him to, he now added a caveat – “unless it is for very good reasons”.

He chose the centenary celebrations to attend his first ANC event since he was fired as national president and he found a grateful audience.

And best of all for him, if he gets involved again he needn’t do anything. There won’t be any strategy meetings at his post-presidency pad in Houghton.

The private rooms at the Grillhouse in Rosebank will instead fill up with young politicians, spin doctors and business people.

All of them know how to use Brand Mbeki for their own ends – in this case to get rid of Brand Zuma.

They will quote him and invoke his “wisdom” to convince others of their cause. They can use his implicit support to give credibility to their campaign, even try and use Brand Mbeki to do some fundraising.

But his biggest currency will be the emotion he evokes in people – from those who think the country will be in good hands again if he is, even nominally, in charge to those who fear the ANC is promoting a no-education-needed leadership.

Nothing scientific about it.

– City Press, January 18 2012

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