Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Why Mbeki is back

2016-08-10 11:01

WATCH: Mbeki dons ANC shirt, insists his vote is secret

2016-08-02 17:19

Thabo Mbeki met with his ANC ward councillor and Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau.WATCH

Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Something extraordinary happened on the eve of the fiercely contested 2016 municipal elections.

Thabo Mbeki, who was axed by the ANC shortly before the end of his presidential term in 2008, found himself at the centre of party politics during this year’s election campaigns.

Gauteng ANC leaders begged him for endorsement. Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, who has since apologised for taking part in the soft “coup” in 2008, also lobbied for Mbeki’s secret vote.

Not to be outdone, ANC candidates paid Mbeki a follow-up visit. The ANC’s Johannesburg mayoral candidate Parks Tau’s visit days before the EFF’s much-publicised campaign was deemed insufficient.

Not only did Mbeki’s visitors compete for his attention and for the indispensable selfies, they also had a tiff on social media about who among them had enjoyed the best tête-à-tête with him.

After the elections, the political calendar moved on to crafting coalition deals, conducting alleged introspection, celebrations, political grieving and grimacing.

But the grovelling towards Mbeki before the elections deserves interrogation because it says something about the state (or lack) of leadership in the ANC and in the country.

Leadership void in the ANC

Why give so much attention to a former leader once described by Jacob Zuma as a “dead snake”? Has “it” risen from the dead?

Why the fascination with getting political endorsement from a man who, according Buti Manamela, the former Young Communist League leader and now deputy minister in the Presidency, should be charged with genocide? Has he been cleared of the charge?

Why seek political support from a pipe smoker once accused by the ANC and its alliance leaders of plotting to frustrate Zuma from ascending to presidential state house Mandlamba Ndlopfu? Has he been exonerated of the political conspiracy charges?

Why look for support from a man accused of weakening the confidence of the people in the ANC and for which he had to be axed? “Once this level of confidence is weakened [by Mbeki],” Zuma remarked in September 2008, “the ANC has no alternative but to take action”.

Has Mbeki been rehabilitated from this tendency of moral hazard; of weakening a party that is ingrained in his family’s DNA?

The stampede for Mbeki’s attention ahead of the municipal elections cannot be reconciled with the “crime” of weakening the ANC, of being a useless dead snake and of being conspirator with genocidal tendencies.

The reason ANC leaders sought Mbeki’s attention is that they no longer have a leader. Zuma is a leader only in title. But he is substantively hollow and has, as predicted by Jeremy Cronin, “hollowed out” the ANC and the Presidency.

In his book The Politics of Moral Capital, political scientist John Kane argued that leaders’ actions are “liable either to downgrade or confirm the reputation of the institutions” they lead.

We need not be political scientists or keen observers like Cronin to realise how Zuma downgraded the Presidency and the ANC.

There is a huge leadership void in the ANC – and by extension in the country. It doesn’t matter that Luthuli House and ANC MPs refuse to face up to reality.

Nor does it matter that we, the ordinary citizens, still call Zuma our president. We do so because it’s a procedural thing to do. In black-tie dinner and state functions he gets showered with all kinds of titles like “your excellency, the honourable” and so on. But these titles are devoid of meaning when applied to him.

A president by procedural default

Since the Constitutional Court found that Zuma violated the Constitution and his oath of office – the governing contract between him and the country – his job as president ended.

The fact that Parliament failed to follow the requisite impeachment processes makes Zuma a president by procedural default. He is not the “constitutional being” that the job of president requires him to be.

Zuma is a non-constitutional being – the opposite of the “constitutional being” Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng referred to in the Nkandla judgment. The judgment is a guide on how to be a legit president beyond merely commanding popular support.

It is because of the institutional downgrading by Zuma that young political leaders like Malema and Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane praised Mbeki during their campaign.

It’s also for this reason that the Gauteng leadership would rather have Mbeki to boost their campaign. They were compelled to share a platform with Zuma because of party protocol.

But not all those who genuflect before Mbeki necessarily like him. The DA’s battles with Mbeki over the years on a number of policies in and outside parliament are a matter of public record.

Yet, Maimane has on several occasions singled out Mbeki and, controversially, the late icon Nelson Mandela for praise in an attempt to draw sharp comparisons with Zuma.

Malema has done the same in the past, typically citing Mandela’s rebellious conduct when he was leader of the ANC Youth League that agitated for radical change.  Malema was charged and eventually expelled from the ANC for among other things comparing Zuma and Mbeki in terms unfavourable to the former.

Malema and Maimane have positioned themselves as heirs to Mandela and Mbeki’s leadership credentials. It’s difficult for the ANC to convincingly claim the reputation of its own former leaders, because Zuma is a threat to the constitutional edifice their actions and conduct supported.

Mandela’s presidency was about nation building, reconciliation and peace. Mbeki’s was about building institutions – domestically and internationally – and economic reforms. Both enjoyed growing electoral support and never threatened the rule of law.

Zuma’s presidency has two pillars that represent everything that is wrong with his legacy: Nkandla and the Guptas.

With about three years to go before his term ends and having led the ANC to electoral decline in four successive elections – two national and two municipal  – it’s unlikely that he will be able to alter it.

- Follow Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Twitter.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  thabo mbeki  |  jacob zuma  |  julius malema  |  mmusi maimane  |  local elections 2016

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