Where were you when Mbeki got fired?

2012-03-28 07:16

A big chunk of being a journalist is learning to wait. By the time television viewers see how reporters are camped out on the steps of a court, or on the pavement at a house or on the grass at the Union buildings, we normally have been there for a while already.

This lesson I learnt the hard way on the day that Thabo Mbeki was fired. I’m not known for my patience so I eventually grabbed a colleague and we set off  to buy snacks at a local East Rand garage. Afterwards we crept into the seedy bar next door, all to avoid going back to the bunch of TV hacks practicing their voice-overs and radio journalists trying to fill dead air.

Later we would find out why it took so long. Almost every one for the 88-strong NEC had something to say and no-one was cut short by the chairperson Baleka Mbete. Mbeki was of course not there, but he still had some sympathisers who did his bidding for him. We now know these had come to nought, and the decision was taken: He must go.

When ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, together with ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte, strolled across the lawn towards the clubhouse where the media were gathered, they had no sense of urgency. I remember watching them chatting as if they were simply coming to brief us on the ANC’s human rights day celebrations, nothing serious.

The press conference got heated, but not more than usual. When you’re in the heat of the moment, often the most profound announcement doesn’t leave you time to be shocked, all you think about is filing the story. And how to get the better angle. The actual implication of what happens only hits you much later.

So when former director general in the presidency Frank Chikane talks about his new book Eight Days in September which chronicles the fall of Mbeki, it is as if he still can’t believe it happened.

At his book launch at the famous Troyeville hotel in Johannesburg, Chikane was asked by City Press editor Ferial Haffajee why he called the removal of Mbeki a coup d’etat. Haffajee, like many of us, felt the label was too harsh. Sure, it was a rather crude action by the ANC, but never was the country in any physical danger, was it Reverend Chikane?

But Chikane insists the “silent masses” would’ve risen up if Mbeki resisted his recall. He billed it as a sinister plot by the Zumaites, propped up by foreign intelligence forces, to get rid of Mbeki.

His argument is Mbeki was a fly in the ointment for the West and therefore they harnassed the Zuma forces to get rid of him.

Really? They left it a bit late then, didn’t they Reverend, if he is only removed a few months before the elections after which he would’ve stepped down anyway?

For those in the Mbeki camp his removal was just too easy. The country went on without a blip, markets didn’t crash – until of course news leaked about Trevor Manuel’s resignation letter – and the army did not come out to the streets. They couldn’t believe their emotions were not shared by everyone in the world, that his humiliation did not move the masses to revolt.

And that is exactly why Mbeki was removed. What went on amongst ordinary people did not concern him anymore, he was more taken with fighting foreign powers than understanding the changing face of the people back home.

Chikane says he wrote the book despite Mbeki and the government refusing to co-operate, because he wants us to learn from the past. But what the book shows us instead, is how at least those around Mbeki, have clearly learnt nothing.

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