Tuesday, August 30, 2005 at 11:13 AM

SOUTH AFRICA: Support for (principled) President Wanes as it Surges for His (compromised) Deputy…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Thabo Mbeki: South Africa’s principled but unloved President…

What, pray tell, is going on in South Africa! How have political disputes within its ruling African National Congress (ANC) become such an internecine saga that President Thabo Mbeki felt compelled last week to publish an open letter assuring South Africans that his sacking of Deputy President Jacob Zuma was not part of a “deliberate hostile political persecution”? Indeed, how is it that after being reelected with an overwhelming mandate just last April (2004), Mbeki now finds himself defending his leadership against mutinous ANC supporters who are demanding Zuma’s reinstatement?

(In fact, the developing dynamics between Mbeki and Zuma evoke all of the intrigue that characterized the relationship between Captain Bligh and Fletch Christian before the Mutiny on the Bounty. And, the inevitable confrontation between these political titans seems destined to rock South Africa’s ship of state.)

Something’s rotten in the state of South Africa!

But, for a critical mass of poor South Africans, what stinks is not Zuma’s alleged corrupt business practices (which precipitated his resignation); instead, it is Mbeki’s economic programme for sustainable development.

Restiveness amongst rank and file supporters of the ANC has been simmering for years. However, disillusionment with Mbeki’s leadership flared into open defiance earlier this year when he cuddled Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in the face of reports that Mugabe was “politically cleansing” his own people for daring to challenge his iron rule. After all, this gesture undermined, in a notoriously craven fashion, the pledge of solidarity that was offered to Zimbabwe’s oppressed Opposition by leaders of Mbeki’s governing alliance – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). And, adding insult to disillusionment, Mbeki incited outrage even amongst stalwart ANC members when he announced just weeks ago his plan to pay-off some of Mugabe’s international debt.

Nevertheless, the root cause of the unfolding mutiny against Mbeki stems from frustrations with his economic policies. Because supporters expected Mbeki to implement programmes, posthaste, to redress social and economic inequities for South Africa’s poor; not to impose upon them austere measures to address financial and business concerns of western banks (like the IMF). But reconciling disaffections in this regard presents Mbeki with a genuine conflict because he seems convinced that his economic agenda harmonizes the expectations of the poor with the imperatives of sustainable development in the best way possible. Unfortunately, the political winds in South Africa today are suffused with impatience. And, they are blowing more towards satisfying immediate expectations than building for the future….

Enter Comrade (Cde) Jacob Zuma: South Africa’s compromised but beloved (axed) Deputy President…

Mbeki’s sacking of Cde Zuma served as the catalyst for open revolt against his leadership. But this is hardly surprising because Cde Zuma embodies the aspirations of redistributive justice that so many South Africans relish (and which is the organizing principle that binds the governing ANC, COSATU and SACP alliance). Moreover, it does not bode well for stability in the country when poor South Africans speak of Cde Zuma the way poor Venezuelans venerate their President Hugo Chavez: As a man committed to expending national resources to empower the chronically poor and disenfranchised through government subsidies for education, employment, health and cooperative enterprises – despite the dictates of western bankers.(i.e. Their Robin Hood!)

Yet, where disaffection and disillusionment with Mbeki’s political priorities are understandable (indeed, he would do well to seek Chavez’s counsel), rallying around Cde Zuma is foolhardy. Because defiant support for him, under these circumstances, also undermines the rule of law and may lead to a national crisis if COSATU and SACP insist on his reinstatement. (In fact, it’s a short step from organizing mobs to boo Cde Zuma’s replacement as Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, off-stage at a recent ANC rally, to inciting street riots and anti-government protests reminiscent of the Anti-Apartheid era.)

There was clearly probable cause for Cde Zuma’s arrest. And, his supporters would do well to allow the courts to resolve the charges against him than to demand that Mbeki give him political cover. But a public trial cannot possibly address the alienation of (personal) affection between these old political comrades that is being played out so dramatically. But the best way I know how to explain the complex relationship between Mbeki and Cde Zuma is as follows:

Zuma was Mbeki’s Achilles heel just as Winnie was Nelson Mandela’s! And, just as Mandela had to disassociate from Winnie (by divorcing her) to preserve the viability of his leadership, so too did Mbeki have to disassociate from Zuma (by sacking him) for the sake of his leadership.

Comrades in Dance (in sync) on the campaign trail a year ago. How sad that today they are marching to the beat of decidedly different drummers…

Note:Cde Zuma’s supporters might insist on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow Cde Zuma and his fellow black oligarchs to explain their shady dealings under a grants of immunity. After all, in post-apartheid South Africa, if such absolution is available to white murderers then it should be equally available to black thieves! (If the shoe fits….)


  1. StressKill Life Coaching August 31, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    An insightful comment on politics in South Africa. Now I understand much better. Many thanks.

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  2. Anonymous August 31, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    i’m an analyst at the state dept and i don’t think i’ve ever read any commentary about south africa that is more balanced, informative, nuanced and informative – and that includes the trite stuff the economist publishes about africa.

    and, that witty endnote is priceless. (i hope they have a sense of humor)

  3. WEAPON OF MASS CONSTRUCTION February 16, 2006 at 8:45 am

    You little less if anyhing about South Africa to can make any sense at all about this comlex country of ours

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