Max du Preez

The Manto and Thabo show

2007-09-05 09:24

Max du Preez

Does Manto Tshabalala-Msimang know something about Thabo Mbeki that makes him afraid to alienate her? Does Jackie Selebi?

These questions have been asked thousands of times by ordinary citizens in recent weeks. Many people ask me, because they think as a journalist I have inside information.

I don't know if there is something in our president's past that some of his ANC colleagues can blackmail him with. But I think the president should take note of the fact that his recent erratic and irrational behaviour has caused South Africans to ask these kinds of questions.

We the South African people deserve better than what has been happening in our politics in recent times. We're a rather decent lot. We gave the world icons such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - in fact, more Nobel Prize laureates per capita than any other nation.

We are embarrassed

We don't deserve front page headlines announcing that our health minister was "a drunk and a thief". We don't deserve stories on our news bulletins of offers to a provincial party leader of a huge sum of money "and the services of a young woman" if he helped with floor crossing. We are embarrassed to hear our police commissioner boasts of his close relationships with kingpins in the criminal world such as Glen Agliotti and Brett Kebble.

We're a classy nation, we don't deserve the seediness that has been characterising our politics in recent times.

Perhaps Mbeki is refusing to fire Manto because he owes her after she has steadfastly propagated and implemented his bizarre views on HIV/Aids while even his closest cabinet allies distanced themselves from him. Perhaps he had a relationship with her at some point in their past - they did leave South Africa together in 1962 and have known each other well since then.

But the president cannot blame us when we wonder whether she learnt something about him during the almost five decades they have known each other that would deeply embarrass him if were to become public knowledge.

Or perhaps she is not the one Mbeki is scared of. Perhaps it is her husband, Mendi Msimang. I have been told that Msimang phoned Mbeki when Manto was in hospital advising the president that it would be unwise of him to use the opportunity to fire his wife from the cabinet.

Financial affairs

Msimang has also known Mbeki for decades. As treasurer-general of the ANC he must know more than most about the financial affairs of the top ANC leaders. Does he perhaps know something that makes Mbeki feel vulnerable?

It isn't very hard to imagine that police commissioner Jackie Selebi could have some dirt on the president. Why else would Mbeki keep him on after it became public knowledge that he had close links with organised crime figures?

Well, there could be another explanation. It could very well be that Mbeki is simply rewarding Tshabalala-Msimang and Selebi's loyalty with loyalty, or that he genuinely thinks they are doing a really good job.

But in the present political atmosphere of cloak and dagger these are not the explanations that come to mind first.

Perhaps it will be good for South Africa if the ANC re-elected Mbeki as its leader in December. Can you imagine how insecure and erratic he will be if he's going to be president of the country until mid-2009 but one of his opponents - it could be Jacob Zuma - will be running the ruling party from the end of 2007?

Send your comments to Max.

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