Monday, 22 September 2008

Hamba kahle, President Mbeki

Full text of Mbeki's farewell address to the Nation

Mbeki addressed the nation last night. His speech was beautiful - nearly had me in tears. A whole bunch of commentators are saying that if he'd been that presidential before maybe he would have won the hearts and minds of the nation.

I am starting to hear the murmers of 'this isn't so bad'. I agree, it's not the end of the world. And yes, it's probably what a lot of people want. Many people are quite excited that the change was achieved through constitutionally and legally acceptible means. People argue that it's a sign of a mature democracy when the change happens legally. I'm glad the ANC is able to play within the system but that's been happening for years. It's something generally to be glad of but not something unique enough to make this situation okay. Just because a coup is achieved through legal, intra-party means doesn't mean it's not a coup. The ANC was elected with Mbeki as it's candidate for president. The electorate was told he would be president for 4 years. Those 4 years aren't up. It's not unreasonable to be as sad about this as I am about the ANC summarily removing the EC premier - the only person in her provincial exec who was doing anything good - on the assumption, I assume, that having a premier in place before voting will mean a smoother transition to a Zuma-faction leadership than an open election process. The Eastern Cape is a place so heavily ANC dominated that it's really all about which ANC member. One has to wonder, is a one-party democracy that respects constitutional processes when making changes really all that democratic?

And before the rants about 'it happens in mature democracies' start, two things:
1. Just because it happens in the USA and the UK doesn't mean it's a good thing - socio-economic rights aren't even part of the US constitution, they're not necessarily an example to follow
2. When Blair stepped down he had been heavily involved in a decision to invade another country based on dodgy information. Olmert is standing down from both country AND party to face corruption charges. Neither of these is true here. Mbeki is not resigning for cause.

Those who argue that we shouldn't jump to conclusions about Zuma's guilt (with whom I agree on that point - my dislike of him is honestly fueled more by his criminal stupidity than his illegal antics) should keep in mind that Mbeki has not been found guilty of anything either. The judge's comments about interference carry only as much weight as the comments about a 'generally corrupt' relationship between Zuma and Shaik. This isn't about choosing between someone who is guilty and someone who is not. And the argument that Mbeki wasn't perfect is, honestly, silly. Yes, he had flaws, but he has achieved great things in the areas where he set out to achieve things, too. And from a female perspective, whatever else you might have to say, he personally appointed more women to high governement office than anyone else I think globally and definitely in Africa. As opposed to Zuma who claimed the cultural tradition of the subjegation of women as his defence in a rape trial (whatever the outcome the choice to use that as his reason is indefensible).

It seems this is about policy. I've often heard the argument that SA won't vote on policy until people stop voting on struggle credentials. I guess when everyone has struggle credentials, policy does play a role. I watched Gwede Mantashe last night on Interface being punished by the interviewer who asked him very directly why Mbeki was being asked to resign and whether the ANC would now change things. Mantashe tried hard to claim that the policies Mbeki had implemented were ANC policies and not about the person so things wouldn't change - while at the same time attempting to suggest that they would be somehow better. The interviewer's skepticism must echo that of everyone who remembers Polokwane. The 'people' want Mbeki gone because, variously, he is too nice to business, he hasn't created enough jobs, he doesn't act in accordance with the values of the people of the country (which, given that Zuma was then elected seem to include the 'she asked for it' defence as legitimate) and because he hadn't fixed crime. It's a matter of focus and policy. This change, this coup, is the triumph of populism over policy. Zuma is South Africa's Bush. Bush was legitimately elected, too.

Mbeki stood before the nation with dignity and eloquence and challenged the new leadership to continue the good work and reminded them of the values - democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism, a free and just South African society for all who live in it, a country in which all people enjoy a better life. We will not see his like again.

* On a completely different note, I really need a job where I get to interact with speechwriters. There is really nothing sexier in the whole world than a beautifully constructed speech... "These African patriots know, as I do, that Africa and Africans will not and must not be the wretched of the earth in perpetuity"... sigh...


  1. Reading the Nicholson judgement, it was more than a 'generally corrupt relationship' style comment. There was evidence of systematic pressure by Mbeki and his ministers (particularly the minster of justice) on the NPA's prosecution strategy for the Zuma case. As another blogger phrased it, it was a Nixonian abuse of the state machinery for personal political ends.

    While I agree with much of your praise for Mbeki's leadership as president, the current legal standing is that he is grossly guilty of abusing his power and/or allowing his ministers to do so in the Zuma affair. For that alone, he should be removed from office. Not because we are a democracy, but because such abuse of power is incompatible with our collective (one hopes) political morals.

  2. The presumption of innocence is meaningless without the right to respond to charges before being pronounced guilty. Sorry, I'm not buying it.

    South Africa will be a poorer nation without Mbeki and it makes me sad that this is what South Africans are choosing.