September 22, 2008
He Was Given the Same Brutal Treatment As His Victims
By WILLIAM GUMEDE
COMMENTIn the end President Thabo Mbeki's demise was as cold, calculated and brutal as his own reputation was for dispensing of his political enemies.
Although Mr Mbeki performed woefully on a range of policies, from failing to deal effectively with crime, HIV/Aids, poverty and unemployment, to refusing to provide income support to the poorest families while running budget surpluses, this was not what finally brought him down.
Nor was it his ideological differences with the disparate coalition of political enemies rallied around his rival, the ANC president Jacob Zuma: Mbeki's centrist economic instincts against the leftist views of the trade unionists and communists, or the virginity-testing supporters on the traditionalist right.
In the end it was personal. It was simply revenge. All those "walking wounded", who felt Mr Mbeki's wrath in the past, including Mr Zuma, combined with those who have only future personal enrichment in mind, such as the likes of Julius Malema, the head of the ANC Youth League, to bring about the most brutal political assassination of a leader in the short democratic history of South Africa.
Mr Mbeki's detractors have been lwaiting to land the knockout blow since his loss of the party presidency to Mr Zuma in December last year. Mr Mbeki's quiet diplomacy to deal with Zimbabwe was long seen as a reason to act. But when he sealed a co-operation agreement, however brittle, between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai, last week, that option evaporated.
Then on 12 September, Judge Chris Nicholson inferred that Mr Mbeki may have used public institutions to sideline Mr Zuma - something which Mr Mbeki has fiercely denied. Yet, since Mr Mbeki had at other times selectively used institutions to sideline critics, there was a ring of credibility to it.
President Mbeki's detractors also wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike, fearing that in his last days in office, he would unleash a carpet bomb raid to crush his enemies, in the vindictive style that has become associated with him. Some feared that he might set up a commission to investigate corruption in arms deals, or appeal against Judge Nicholson's judgment, and also set in motion the recharging of Mr Zuma - whom he fired as deputy president over corruption in 2005 - which would prevent him from taking the South African presidency.
Yet, the dignified way in which Mr Mbeki dealt with his loss of the ANC leadership last December and this humiliation, in which he has been described by Mr Zuma as a "dead snake", may actually unleash a wave of sympathy. Mr Zuma understood this when he asked last week what was the point of beating a man broken already? Yet, Mr Zuma could not stop his supporters' move, raising questions over whether he, Mr Zuma, is a prisoner of his supporters, unable to control them once he is in power.
William M Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC
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