Mbeki returns

2010-10-01 00:00

WHEN the ANC gathered in Durban for its mid-term conference, the national general council (NGC), the country’s former president Thabo Mbeki was at a United Nations meeting in New York with other statespeople.

Although Mbeki has consistently been speaking at high-level gatherings since his recall, the past six weeks have been particularly busy with him crisscrossing the globe speaking about his pet subjects­.

His absence at the ANC’s biggest meeting between conferences would not have gone unnoticed by those in the party who believe that he sees himself as beyond the current­ leadership’s jurisdiction.

They are unlikely to take kindly to the fact that at the United Nations­ meeting where they discussed Sudan­’s future as a unitary state­, Mbeki all but upstaged Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane by having the last word on a resolution pertaining to the Central African state.

It was the latest indication that Mbeki has quietly returned to the political scene. Although stripped of state power he is increasingly finding a voice and filling a didactic role left by a political leadership that focuses more on operational issues and putting party fires out.

He is speaking on international affairs with a particular bias­ for Africa­ and employing a scholarship of politics, history, literature and even the Bible to charm his way back into the public consciousness. Mbeki even included classical music composer Ludwig van Beethoven in one of his speeches.

He has spoken to international leaders, young executives, university students and high school pupils on various topics, ranging from the need for young Africans and students to bolster their continent’s capacity to face 21st-century challenges, and urging them to take up the cudgels to improve conditions on their continent.

He has even batted for the continuation of affirmative action and other race-based societal equalisation projects and spoken out against xenophobia and urged tertiary-student activism, short of violence and vandalisation of campuses.

Speaking at Yaroslavl, Russia, in August, Mbeki said: “I believe that it is a matter of common cause that security is a public good. Thus it is a peremptory obligation of the state to ensure the safety and security of the citizen. It should therefore follow that international peace and security is equally a global public good.”

A week earlier he made the “Carthage must be rebuilt” speech addressing student leaders from various parts of the continent­ and urging them to play a greater role in attempts to revitalise Africa. Mbeki placed the destruction of the ancient city of Carthage (near the present-day Tunisian capital, Tunis) about 260 years before the common era, as the beginning of Europe’s domination of Africa.

Mbeki urged African student leaders to take a more critical role in their societies.

In keeping with the theme of young pupils being proactive, addressing participants at the African Schools Debating Championships in Johannesburg in August, Mbeki urged high school debaters against disengaging from public affairs: “You should resist the temptation to disengage from the effort to determine the future of our continent. You should therefore position yourselves mentally and psychologically to become activists for progressive change in Africa, opting to use your education and training to serve the people.”

Speaking at the Black Management Forum’s Southern Africa Young Professionals Development Summit in Cape Town on August­ 19, Mbeki took a swipe at former United States president George W. Bush for having lacked vision and urged delegates against following in the American leader’s footsteps.

Taking a direct swipe at opponents of employment and economic equality laws, Mbeki quoted former American president Lyndon B. Johnson, who once said: “Freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying, ‘now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please’.

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to a race starting line and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

Mbeki has also spoken out against xenophobia, arguing that Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans and those who come from our immediate neighbourhood of Lesotho and Swaziland have been part of the urbanisation of South Africa that has continued since the dawn of the 20th century.

It has been a remarkable re- entry­ for Mbeki into public life, having been all but politically buried­ by his opponents after the Polokwane defeat against Zuma.

Mbeki himself might have given us a hint when he addressed the All Africa Conference of Churches in Maputo in December 2008 — his first public outing after his recall.

The conference was themed around the biblical story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus’s death and subsequent resurrection.

“I told myself that you sought to communicate the message to all Africa that though Africa might have died a little, she would, by God’s Grace, come forth in an act of resurrection, disrobe herself of the garments of death and step forth in faith, to continue her march towards her renaissance.”

Alternatively he is simply an old dog who will not be taught the trick of staying quiet in a corner.

The Maputo address again: “It is said that you cannot bend an old tree. I am convinced that, despite the temptation of vanity, which the son of David denounced in the Book of Ecclesiastes, in terms of which I might describe myself as a young sapling, I am indeed an old tree, who can no longer bend without breaking.”

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