The king is dead, long live the king!

by Ant Katz | Dec 20, 2013

Could it be that former President Thabo Mbeki was warning us that Madiba was the “conscience” of the ANC and that, with him no longer around, Jacob Zuma and his cohorts can do things that they would never have done were Madiba still alive? Like change the entire playing field?

Since hearing Thabo Mbeki’s incredibly open speech at the Oxford Shul Mandela Memorial service last Sunday, I have become increasingly disturbed as to why Mbeki chose to deliver such an obviously concerned warning, and, more pertinently, why he chose last Sunday to say it.

We have heard precious little from Thabo Mbeki since his unceremonious ‘redeployment’ from the Presidency – and certainly no harsh criticism of his replacements.

Yet there was little doubt that Mbeki was voicing his concerns about the current and future leadership in his hard-hitting speech at Oxford Shul. For a cast-aside leader who has been at pains not to question the ANC since being discarded several years ago - maybe Mbeki feels that he is now the party elder, or maybe he just felt comfortable among the Jewish community he learned from Madiba to be so at ease with.

But a third possible scenario looms – one that could bode mega-tsunami-like tidings for South African society.

Warnings about the current leadership

"What do we do to ensure this noble legacy Nelson Mandela and others left behind not be betrayed?" Mbeki he asked. He made no bones of the fact that he did not have confidence in the current and potential future leadership to live up to this lofty legacy.

Among the many warnings he gave, all of which were clearly targeted at those in power or aspiring to it, Thabo Mbeki dropped his guard and spoke firmly about the importance of:

  • Strong, quality leadership – which he believes is sadly lacking
  • Ensuring “we do not betray what (Madiba) and others sacrificed for
  • The betrayal of Mandela's legacy and values, Mbeki urged for greater commitment to ‘principles’ in SA
  • He questioned the delay in sharing wealth and eradication of poverty
  • Asking questions about the colour and race of

    Reminding his audience that Nelson Mandela had said from the Rivonia Trial dock that he was willing to die for his ideals, Mbeki asked how many of today’s leaders would have that commitment. Most of all, and here’s the scariest part, Mbeki made it clear many times in his speech that he believed that under the present and aspiring leadership, the South African Constitution could be under threat.

    That the part that bothers me the most: Why did Mbeki keep returning to the question of our Constitution? Read our story on Mbekei’s speech last week: “DON'T BETRAY MANDELA'S LEGACY” and see how he refers to:

  • Honouring South Africa's constitution
  • The country's Constitution coming under attack from both within and outside the ANC
  • Hints at changes to the Constitution
  • Campaigns to the Constitution to facilitate nationalisations and land grabs

Doomsday scenario

So, what if Thabo Mbeki WAS actually warning the nation? What if he was saying the Constitution IS likely to come under fire?

There is little doubt that following the constitutional path must be of considerable concern for Jacob Zuma and many of his cohorts.

Neither is there any doubt that he has surrounding himself with cronies and yes-people while discarding any potential persons of moral fortitude and the strength of character to stand up to (or against) him. If only Zuma had applied his obviously brilliant abilities to nation-building and job-creation, instead of to his personal wealth-building megalomania, our rainbow Nation could be in a very different place right now.

But we have squandered so many years. Zuma can’t be toppled by an internal putsch because he is now all-powerful within the ANC/Communist party alliance. I specifically exclude Cosatu as I am not sure how tightly they are bound.

So now we have a Zuma free of conscience. But by no means free of baggage – and, if just ten percent of the reports are to be believed, he is building up more baggage as every day goes by. As are his family and cohorts.

Zuma is a very astute politician. Certainly way more than his predecessors, Mandela and Mbeki ever were. They were better diplomats, figureheads, set good examples. But Zuma is the consummate politician. Don’t let a few boos or the odd blue or yellow t-shirt or even the red berets of the EFF fool you. Zuma will bring home the trophy in 2014 for the ANC.

But he is unlikely to retain his 264 seats, or 66 percent of the 400-seat parliament. (Although, despite the boos, don’t be surprised if the Prez calls a snap election soon – catching the opposition - old and new alike – unawares and riding on the tide of Madiba’s party).

Okay, let’s say he doesn’t

Even if there’s a normal election in 2014 and the ANC comes in with whatever majority, Zuma is still in a fix. He can’t afford to simply stand down as ANC leader in 2017 and as Prez in 2019 – as the Constitution prescribes – because it could put him in an invidiously vulnerable position with the system. He could have to answer to any number of charges, over eight hundred we know of, dozens more he is publically suspected of and who knows how many others that we know nothing about yet.

Thabo Mbeki is also an astute leader. He may not have Zuma’s wiliness or Madiba’s charm, but he knows how to read a room as well as either of them. His problem has always been how to play to that room.

So, if you ask me, Thabo Mbeki didn’t just happen to make the statements he made. He didn’t just happen to allude to the Constitution so many times. He chose the moment, he chose the room and he chose the message – of that I have no doubt. He smells the danger of an attempted Constitutional change here or there. To allow Zuma to become Prez for life, to hand out land and money and mines to appease the impoverished, to become a one-party state. Whatever...

So what did Mbeki want us to take away?

My only question is: “What is Mbeki’s endgame?”

I have been following, studying and writing on politics for most of my life. And I can only come up with two possible hands that Thabo Mbeke could have been playing last Sunday At Oxford Shul.

On the one hand, Mbeki may have been making it known that he is now the elder statesman. That he will in future be the conscience of the ANC and won’t allow Madiba’s legacy to be spoiled by messing with the constitution.

But if this were his plan, he would have to know it wouldn’t work. The lame old lion commands no respect from the pride. The once all-powerful Mbeki no longer commands any of the respect it would require to be able to muster any force against his old rival, Jacob Zuma. He no longer has the standing with the leadership and neither does he have it with the people of SA - Zuma has buried that.

So that leaves me with only me to the other hand Mbeki could have been playing: Warning us to watch out for ourselves. Telling SA that things are going to change, that the Constitution we so cherish and which is so revered around the world is under threat. And that it is up to us as South Africans to stand up for our Constitutional rights and not let them come unhinged.

And, as Jews (and he wrote his speech for a Jewish audience), maybe the most pertinent statement, the most carefully-considered warning that Mbeki gave to us as he warned about the future, was this:

"We were inspired as young people what (Madiba) and his generation were able to do, to engage in struggle, to end the injustice of apartheid," he said. "We were inspired by many leaders, we never asked questions about their colour and race."


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