Tainiting the office

2008-05-14 00:00

DEMOCRATIC Alliance leader Helen Zille this week said President Thabo Mbeki should leave office immediately and asked that the National Assembly be dissolved so that a national election could be held. Her argument, citing well-known examples, was that Mbeki has consistently failed to uphold basic tenets of the South African Constitution.

This is hardly a far-fetched idea: it’s held, not only by opposition parties, but by certain elements within the ANC itself. Mbeki, already tainted by association with the arms deal and by his blinkered and authoritarian stance on, for instance, HIV/Aids, the Scorpions and Zimbabwe, has performed badly since the Polokwane Conference last December. There, the ANC decisively showed him the door as party leader and state president, and the right thing for him to do was to accept this gracefully and set about winding down his final term of office, concentrating on helping make the leadership transition as seamless as possible — a process the ANC is currently managing by repositioning various members of the upper echelons. Instead, he has continued to try to play the role of national and international statesman, going against the tide of ANC opinion — and damaging the country’s international image — by, for example, visiting Harare and demonstrating his friendship and support for Robert Mugabe. And so his shortcomings as a leader become ever more obvious, especially as the findings of the Khampepe and Ginwala commissions are made public, and especially as the present embarrassing mess at the SABC seems clearly to be traceable back to his meddling.

It’s a sad picture, that of a president purported to be cultivated and intelligent, yet lacking the wit to understand that he’s no longer a leader, and so staining and even nullifying the positive achievements of his presidency and demeaning himself. This means that, whether he realises it or not, he’s actually collaborating with the efforts of the ANC to airbrush him from party publications and other organs and, eventually, to expunge him from the history books.

How grand it would be if Zille’s other suggestion, that not the ANC alone, but the entire electorate, should vote for the state president, were to be accepted. At least then we’d have a wider and, one hopes, more talented and suitable, choice of potential candidates instead of, as now, the prospect of exchanging one kind of lame-duck president for another.

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