Whom the gods would destroy...

2007-12-21 00:00

As I watched the announcement of the ANC electoral results, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of grief and sympathy for Thabo Mbeki. I was overcome with sadness as I watched him stare humiliation in the face.

To say he brought it upon himself would be a logical way of looking at it and a justified assessment. I can’t begin to imagine how he felt. I am sure that this will register as one of the lowest moments in his life.

The biggest irony for me was that he was humiliated by the very idealistic democracy he has lived for. He was in a way an unintended victim of the product of what the “National Democratic Revolution” has as its underlying basis.

I am inclined to believe that the only reason that Mbeki was driven to this point is the fact that he could not come to terms with the notion of no longer being a participating member and leader within the ANC. As the saying goes, you are what you know. The ANC is all Mbeki knows. He has lived his entire life for the ANC. He knows nothing else but the ANC. In other words, I am starting to believe that he was not just opposed to Zuma but was opposed to the idea of no longer being in the leadership of the organisation. Without the ANC, his life loses meaning.

At 65, life poses immense challenges in that as you struggle to come to terms with your mortality and its ever growing reality each day, your denial leads you to a place that compromises your judgment with regards to your role in the world given all the dynamics. You seek relevance, acceptance and prominence in your life more than ever before.

For a man of Mbeki’s intellectual standing and wisdom, I feel this is the fundamental challenge he faced that led to his ultimate downfall. The tragedy, as Shakespeare often portrayed, unfolds when a great man is kidnapped by his insecurities, thus leading him to do things in the interest of self-preservation that result in self-destruction.

As an ordinary citizen of this country, I find myself undecided on whether to forgive and understand his actions in the current context. He has been exemplary in discharging his responsibilities as a statesman. He has earned the respect of most of his peers and other equivalents through his natural talents and display of leadership. He contributed more than most to the liberation of this country and its prosperity after liberation.

However, as human beings, we have a natural tendency to become fixated on the negatives in a character such that we can never adopt a balanced understanding of all the facts before us. I say this because there is a growing amnesia around Mbeki’s achievements for South Africa and the ANC. He is, in my view, a perfect example of a person whom the gods destroyed by making him mad with power. He joins the famous list of other leaders such as Julius Caesar, Shaka Zulu, Napoleon Bonaparte, Maximilian Robespierre, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and many others who were destroyed by the madness of power.

• Benedict Buthelezi is a sales and marketing manager based in Johannesburg.

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