An Evening with Thabo Mbeki

2016-06-24 19:29

I am typing this article in the car just after attending a Book Festival. The Book Festival was an event to present to the public a new book about our past President Thabo Mbeki. The title of the book is The Thabo Mbeki I Know. What made the night warm was the man himself.

As President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki had a commanding presence.  When he was forced to resign he inspired a degree of reverence.

Those qualities were felt throughout the evening. The evening was cool. Tea, coffee and juice were neatly laid on side tables. The event provided an opportunity for serious networking and easy leisurely talking with good, resounding laughs.

Thabo Mbeki for 14 unbroken years has been at top of the country reshaping, remapping and affirming our identity, our sense of space within the global stage as Africans. Yet throughout the evening he remained very approachable, relaxed and entertaining. I felt I had known Thabo Mbeki all my life. I was deeply impressed by his simplicity.

He worked the crowd with his heart warming stories. A conversation becomes an art form for Thabo Mbeki as he fuses it with stories, (and advice) to exemplify and bring a point to heart.

Throughout the chit chat before the session I had meant to ask him a question. (I was aware  that I had to leave before the session, and therefore will not have opportunity for Q&A time). My question was about the emergent of youthful leaders Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane taking the baton of leadership and advancing the South African society to new frontiers.

That question was on my mind considering that Thabo Mbeki has been too willing and too forthright to take photo shoots and talks with both Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema. What is the meaning behind this generosity.

I sensed that he believes in youthful exuberance as he scans the future, he believes that to get out of the present quagmire it will require the dynamism of youth, and so wherever he sees the youth rising he want to encourage them. My question could not have been a shock. Because Thabo Mbeki since his sad forced removal has always expressed himself above party politics. That is the reason at the evening there were no flags of any political party, and that has always been the case in all his public appearances. He is a pure active citizen concerned with the South African society. How do we shape the future? And how does he see the role of both Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema? Both these young leaders represent forces that are shaping our society and resonates with his Foundation's mission of investing in thought leaders for Africa's renewal. Both Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane admire the man, and have been seen attending the Thabo Mbeki Foundation lectures. So my question was perfectly legit within these contexts.

But I was unable to ask him the question because there were too many people around him chatting and drawing his attention that my question could not be voiced.

Coming to the book itself...

The Thabo Mbeki I Know is written by his friends as well as erstwhile foes. They testify, not to the absence of weakness in his character, but to a certain weight, a strong passionate engagement with the big issues of his time and meeting head-on with a historical burden.  The contributors to the book realized that, his shortcomings and flaws notwithstanding, he sure stood up and represented Africa in the global stage like other giant African leaders. He gave the South African presidency the best shot, and on the global stage, none, friends or foes alike, could dismiss him as yet another African leader of less significance.

May he be granted further years of service to society.

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