[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Charlene Smith on Mbeki's farewell
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Dec 17 16:21:19 GMT 2007
Hamba Mbeki! Welcome, hope
by Charlene Smith
It's raining in Johannesburg. In Africa, we believe rain is a blessing,
that it cleanses, brings new life.
This week African National Congress delegates at Polokwane make the most
important political decision the movement has taken since 1956 when it
voted to allow white members, and pan-Africanists under Robert Sobukwe
In the same way that the Youth League of 1948 under Nelson Mandela,
Walter Sisulu and others shook up an organisation that had grown
slothful and corrupt under founder Pixley ka Seme and his cohorts, those
who at Sunday's opening of the conference jeered ANC chairman Terror
Lekota and President Thabo Mbeki are demanding an ANC that is once more
accountable to the people.
You'd have to be the most cynical of observers not to see how hopeful
those scenes were — not in the way Mbeki was humiliated, but in the way
citizens of an African country, those who belong to the ruling party,
essentially told a leader to go to hell because he had failed them. If
you do not see that as the brightest star to shine above this continent
for a long time, then little will persuade you. It shows democracy in
action; this is the African renaissance.
Delegates essentially told an ANC leadership increasingly distant and
contemptuous of its supporters that without economic freedom, there is
no political freedom. A vote should be a ticket to a better future for
all, not to Mercedes 4×4s for an elite.
It has set a precedent that every leader, in business and politics,
should take careful note of — people are tired of waiting. They demand
to be heard, to be respected.
Mbeki has the arrogance of one born into the ANC; he thinks he can
direct it. Those who reject him are a new generation; they chose to join
the ANC not because of what they hoped it could destroy (apartheid), but
because of the promise of what it could build. These are the members not
of struggle, but of democracy. They want what they were promised. And
they want a say in decisions.
In every post-liberation African country, citizens have been cowed by
the lies of revolutionary leaders. They have stayed silent as their
countries have slid down the slope. In Polokwane on Sunday, people held
up their hand against the slide.
A brave activist friend in Zimbabwe sent me these words by Alice Walker:
"It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our
heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism,
which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we
have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice
of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of
shame. This is the tragedy of the world. For we can do nothing
substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one,
without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our
small, imperfect stones to the pile."
If the citizens of Zimbabwe had stood up to Robert Mugabe the way South
Africans did to Mbeki and the ANC leadership on Sunday, he would have
been long gone. And no, our struggle is not over; it has just begun, but
if Zimbabweans had done the same to Mugabe eight years into his reign,
the destiny of that country would not be as bleak. On Sunday, a few
South Africans showed they will not submit quietly and by doing that,
they gave us back our future.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian last week, his first in eight
years, Mbeki said he had not realised the discontent of voters. Does he
not read newspapers? If he did not realise the extent of discontent, why
did he spend so much time attacking citizens, journalists, business
people and others in his Friday letter? If, instead of walking shielded
by bodyguards and speeding through communities with seven-car
cavalcades, vehicles three abreast, if he'd stopped and walked among his
people as Nelson Mandela did, then perhaps he may have known.
But in truth, Mbeki's problem was that he believed he knew everything.
It is better to have a president who knows what he doesn't know and
surrounds himself or herself with sound advisers than one who rejects
This week, the ANC's pan-Africanist president will face the judgement of
those he neglected, those against whom he orchestrated dirty tricks,
those he insulted and those he wrongfully accused of plotting against
him. He may still win, of course, but if he does it will be a bitter
victory — for him and the nation.
Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, forced out of the ANC presidential
race by Mbeki before 1999 and who later claimed they had organised a
conspiracy against him in 2000, are backing Zuma. Big businessman
Patrice Motsepe has also turned his back on Mbeki.
In Latin America, it was said after repeated coups in the 1970s and
1980s that no coup could succeed without the backing of big business.
Mbeki is likely to discover that his pro-business position was always
tenuous because it lacked sufficient attention to the poor. The
interests of the rich are always in danger, when too many of a populace
go to bed hungry.
The poor do not threaten us; those who manipulate them do. High rates of
crime here, as an example, are not a result of poverty, but of
syndicates that have bribed the already privileged. It is the powerful
who are corrupt that most endanger us. Beware, too, when you read this,
of making easy judgements. The arms deal warns us again and again that
there was a tapestry of top-level corruption, and less than a handful
have faced charges. Are we rotten at the top? Even Mbeki and ANC
secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe sketched a nation and an
organisation riven with greed.
Which may be why principled business in the form of Ramaphosa and
Sexwale are making a stand. Cyril Ramaphosa was the son of a policeman;
in 1977 he was expelled from the same university where the ANC
conference is being held for being part of black consciousness protests.
Tokyo Sexwale came from a humble background; so did Motsepe — Mbeki, by
contrast, didn't. As Mark Gevisser described at the launch of his book A
Dream Deferred, Mbeki came from a family that was an intellectual,
political and financial elite. From the age of 19 he patrolled the
cocktail circuits of Europe, returning home in his 50s to a people
Gevisser reports that he said he felt a "disconnect" from.
Ramaphosa, Sexwale, Mac Maharaj, Jacob Zuma, Mathews Phosa — all those
Mbeki humiliated understand the need to assuage the interests of the
poor to grow the nation and to protect the fortunes they and the country
have amassed. They will provide a strong counter to Cosatu's desire to
move the country left.
Mbeki, arguably the greatest political speech-writer in South Africa,
failed on Sunday when he most needed to persuade. He strode to the
podium in a brown golf shirt with pink and grey stripes, an ANC logo on
his left breast; he never smiled, never made eye contact with the people
with whom he should have sought to have some rapport. He spoke in the
same way he ruled: aloof, dispassionate, disinterested in those before him.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation cameras never showed us the
expressions of others on the podium. The SABC tried to control the
situation with rigid camerawork, but ANC rank-and-file members are not
under orders from Snuki Zikalala. There was occasional low-key heckling
of Mbeki. Then, before the startled eyes of older cadres who had never
yet been to a contested presidential election at an ANC conference,
after Mbeki finished speaking chaos broke out with sustained pro-Zuma
chants and singing. A beleaguered Terror Lekota, once one of the most
popular people in the ANC until he began fervently backing Mbeki, failed
to restore calm.
Earlier during his almost three-hour speech, Mbeki did something
psychologically telling; when he began talking about "confronting
poverty and underdevelopment", he took out a white handkerchief and
wiped his brow.
Mbeki should have inspired and yet he went through a dull litany of what
his government had achieved and how it could have achieved more but for
the corrupt. The point, however, is that it was he who had the power as
president of the ANC and of the country to call opportunists and the
corrupt to book, but in too many high-profile cases he either did
nothing or prevented investigations.
The sacking of Vusi Pikoli, head of the National Prosecuting Authority
and widely considered an honourable man, just before he was due to
arrest police Commissioner Jackie Selebi is one point. Tony Yengeni's
brief sojourn in jail and the suspension of a police officer who claimed
he was driving drunk is another.
Mbeki spoke of how public spending had increased by 9,4% in the past
five years and that "spending per person has grown twice as fast as the
growth of the economy" — but failed to note how much of the money
allocated had not resulted in delivery. Take as an example the
R5-billion allocated to education in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape
and not spent because of bureaucratic ineptitude.
Mbeki noted, too, that, "the areas with the greatest number of violent
crimes are poor and depressed economically. In those areas there are few
recreational facilities, unemployment is high, there are many shebeens,
there are dysfunctional families and the level of substance abuse is
very high." But why, one wondered listening to him, have you done so
little to remedy this? Where is the building of parks or youth centres
or intense programmes to stop drug or alcohol abuse and help those addicted?
He was booed when he denied that under him there had been a
"centralisation of government power in president" or an "abuse of state
power". He responded: "It is easy for members to be misled." And here he
made the most serious mistake any political leader can make — speaking
to his constituency as though they are children and lack the wisdom to
make their own decisions.
If people walked in clean, safe streets, believed they had work
opportunities, if clean water flowed from taps and children had good
education and effective medical care, then no trouble maker could succeed.
It will be remarkable if Mbeki wins at the polls. If he does, I do not
want to be in Polokwane, because it is a decision that will not be
believed either there or in other parts of the country. If he loses,
history will commend him if he calls an early national election and goes
with dignity. He has made so many enemies that it is hard to see what
post he could assume here or internationally. A United Nations post
seemed obvious, but South Africa's record at the Security Council has
been so contentious that it is now probably out of the question. His
position at Portugal recently in defence of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe
alienated many Europeans.
By contrast, Zuma will be elected knowing that many mistrust him. He is
starting off a low base, but has the backing of some remarkable people.
Much has already happened in Polokwane to give cause for hope. Perhaps
the rain is a messenger.
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