How does it feel for Thabo Mbeki

2016-11-16 06:00

I WONDER how it feels to be the former president, Thabo Mbeki, as he watches a country he once ran with distinction after a great man named Nelson Mandela, going downhill slowly.

Does Mbeki think of the things he could have done differently while in power, and so save our country from becoming yet another flawed African state?

I marvelled when Mbeki emerged from his exile years as a beacon of light, a fountain of insightful thinking that asked such pertinent questions as where would the African National Congress (ANC) get funding from after it was unbanned as it readied itself to lead a country out of a deplored racist past for the first time after decades in the wilderness.

I wonder how it feels to be Mbeki when he reflects on the fact that he could not provide room for the political growth of three strategic potential modern leaders who could have taken the ANC to new heights i.e. South African business giants, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Tokyo Sexwale and the Mpumalanga law practitioner, Mathews Phoswa.

Did the three really deserve to be labelled “anti-Mbeki radicals” bent on replacing the then thinker-state president and hence their subsequent disappearance or assuming a low profile as key players in South African politics?

The late African-American pastor, Myles Monroe, asserts that there is a need to prepare a successor to run things when one leaves a business operation behind due to death, illness, old-age, etc.

The same is true for family interests, community projects and political parties.

When Mbeki failed to prepare a predecessor for whatever reason, South Africa was bound to go astray. Who did he hope or want to see take over the running of our beloved very rich country?

Certainly it wasn’t the current ANC president Zuma he had in mind. Who did he have in mind? Himself? Running things for eternity? Definitely it seemed like there was no plan for the post-Mbeki era when the pipe-smoking thinker-president was in charge.

Hence, anyone could take over after him depending on the support that person had or wielded. And that person happened to be Zuma. It could have been anyone, it would seem to me. Unfortunately for us, Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Phoswa were no longer available.

I wonder how it feels to be Mbeki when he reflects on the families the ANC of his time was able to elevate to the status of being potential boosters of the ANC coffers. Surely the ANC had a legitimate need to generate an income to run its offices, pay staff and mount political campaigns like any viable political party should do anywhere in the world.

Was Mbeki a good business leader with a huge potential to help his party generate money and guide the country’s economy to growth amid effective service delivery? Yes. That’s for sure. Absolutely.

Was Mbeki a noble person with a clear vision as to who should take over after him or a succession plan in order to sustain his achievements? I don’t think so.

I don’t know how it feels to be Mbeki as he watches a political party that led a great people out of political hardships that his family name was synonymous with going astray.

Did he have the potential to help the country get another credible leader after him? Of course, yes. Did he use that potential? Certainly not.

Did he have an opportunity to prepare a predecessor for South Africa? Indeed he did. Did he use that opportunity? Of course not. Why? Because, in my view, unlike Mandela, Mbeki was not ready to hand over to someone else.

Zuma did not create Shabir Shaik and the Gupta family as well as the French company that was responsible for the arms deal that did not employ local people as stipulated in official documents associated with its brief.

Zuma may have benefited from these families like all politicians do the world over, but he was not responsible for their association with the ANC.

So his dealings with these families were as a result of his work as one of the leaders of the ANC. And I am sure the world is full of political leaders whose relationships with business people that benefit from governments can be said to be questionable.

In short, Zuma cannot be solely held responsible for the things that have gone wrong in the oldest political party on the continent.

Zuma is generally perceived as having used ANC-linked businesses for personal benefit while Mbeki intended to use them for the benefit of the ANC as a party that needed to swell its coffers for operational purposes.

Why did Mbeki reportedly help Zuma to generate money for his own benefit in defiance of the bigger objective? Maybe to set him up to fail and be consumed by the fire of his own immediate need for resources.

I wonder how it feels to be Mbeki as he watches the country he could have led very well going astray. Does he laugh at the state of affairs or feel bad that he could have done certain things differently as he smokes his wonderful pipe in the home the taxpayer paid for.

As we rush to attack Zuma for the things that are going wrong in the movement, history must necessarily judge Mbeki too.

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity.

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