Analysts are expressing concern
over the situation in South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki has formally offered
his resignation. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) pressured Mr. Mbeki to step
down before his second term ends next year. This follows a judge’s suggestion that the
president may have interfered in a corruption investigation to ensure the prosecution of ANC leader
Jacob Zuma, a political foe of Mr. Mbeki.
“Shock” and “uncertainty” are just two of the words
Professor Pieter Fourie uses when describing the current situation in South
Africa, where citizens yesterday watched their president give a television
address in which he announced he’d soon leave office.
Fourie, the author of a number of books on Mr. Mbeki and
his policies, says such a momentous and unprecedented event in the country’s
history has “understandably” given South Africans cause for concern about their
“Opposition parties, especially, are saying that Mbeki’s
sacking…by his party has been a big mistake. Then again, some regular, normal
South Africans on the street are saying that it’s a good thing and that the
president had it coming,” says the head of the University of Johannesburg’s
political science department.
adds that the manner of Mr. Mbeki’s resignation – effectively being “forced”
from office by the party he’s supported since boyhood – is indeed an
ignominious end to Mr. Mbeki’s reign as the president of one of the most
powerful countries in the developing world, with the continent’s largest
Mbeki is praised for presiding over economic growth in South Africa but is
accused by many South Africans of creating a new black economic elite and
distancing himself from the country’s poor majority. Analysts say while the
economy has undoubtedly grown under Mbeki, this growth hasn’t filtered down to
the masses of people who continue to live in dilapidated shack-lands and
struggle for daily survival.
Zuma is accused by state prosecutors of accepting numerous
bribes from foreign companies in connection with an arms deal. Fourie says it’s
important to remember that, as Zuma’s supporters revel in Mr. Mbeki’s fall from
grace, that high court judge Chris Nicholson, who last Friday dismissed the
corruption case against their hero, did so on a technicality and did not
absolve Zuma. Nevertheless, says Fourie, it’s now increasingly likely that the
ANC leader will escape prosecution for corruption and will eventually become
South Africa’s next president.
Mr. Mbeki is in many respects the architect of his own
demise, says the analyst.
He explains, “When Mr. Mbeki fired Zuma from his post as
South Africa’s deputy president in 2005, after one of Zuma’s advisors was found
guilty of soliciting bribes on his behalf, the president set the scene for deep
political conflict and unwittingly created a precedent for his own removal from
In now deciding to pressure Mr. Mbeki to go, he says, the
ANC has “ironically” used the same argument against him that he used against
Zuma three years ago.
“There was no legal case against Jacob Zuma; his financial
advisor was simply accused and found guilty of fraud. And then Mbeki himself
said it would be inappropriate for Zuma to stay on as deputy president. Now the
Zuma camp (in the ANC) says that as the judge implicated Mbeki in political
conspiracies…it is now inappropriate for Mbeki to remain as president of the
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu has criticized such
“tit-for-tat” and “retributive” politics.
However, Fourie is convinced that “we should look to Mbeki
and the flaws of the man himself” when analyzing the present situation in South
“We had in Mbeki a supposedly intellectually brilliant
leader, but someone who came to be completely out of touch with people – not
only in the rest of the country, but throughout his ruling party. He has been
accused of being intellectually conceited and so self-assured that he expects
the people to trust him implicitly (no matter what). In the process, he lost
contact with grassroots support.”
Fourie says there’s evidence of this in a “series of
denialist (sic) tendencies” that Mr. Mbeki has demonstrated.
The South African president has been widely condemned for
disagreeing with mainstream scientific opinion that the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) causes AIDS. As a direct result of this conviction, the president’s
policies denied anti-retroviral treatment to South Africans. Mr. Mbeki also
employed a health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who advocated a diet
consisting of fresh vegetables rather than anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV.
AIDS activists have thus accused Mr. Mbeki of being responsible for the
premature deaths of thousands of South Africans, by either denying them treatment
or misinforming them about the possible benefits of certain medication.
Mbeki has also received international condemnation for his policy of “quiet
diplomacy” as a way to deal with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and end the
economic and political chaos in South Africa’s neighbor. Many say Mr. Mbeki’s
alleged favoritism towards Mr. Mugabe has prolonged the suffering of
Zimbabweans, despite optimism following the recent Mbeki-brokered power-sharing
pact signed in Harare.
is convinced that it’s “naïve” and “disingenuous” to sell Zimbabwe’s recent
power-sharing agreement as proof of Mr. Mbeki’s foreign policy success in the
region, despite the fact that he has been lead mediator in the impasse for a
number of years.
agreement has been touted by the Mbeki camp as an example of how quiet
diplomacy has worked, but in reality what we saw was the outcome of a
month-and-a-half on intense mediation by the lieutenants of Thabo Mbeki, and
Mbeki simply swooping in to co-sign the deal.”
says the ANC is “smart” in deciding to continue deploying Mr. Mbeki to the
ongoing negotiations in Harare, “because by all indications the deal is
unraveling. There is no final agreement on the cabinet and senior political
governance in Zimbabwe, and Mbeki will probably have to jump in there to try to
save the situation.”
his tenure, Mr. Mbeki also repeatedly denied the extreme severity of crime in
these factors, says Fourie, offered evidence that the president had “completely
lost touch with reality.”
surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men and women, and he’s now paying the price for
describes Mr. Mbeki’s ouster as a “great tragedy.”
had someone with so much promise ten years ago, who did a lot of good in
stabilizing the (economy) in this country, someone who was a thinker, who came
up with the idea of a continent-wide African Renaissance, which led to the (New
Partnership for African Development). He did very good things in terms of the
profile of the continent, was invited to (World Economic Forum) and G8
meetings, but who has become so…self-assured that his own conceitedness has led
to his downfall.”
for the immediate future, Fourie expects the ANC to be “magnanimous and to make
sounds regarding national unity in order to assuage the local financial markets
Zuma has immediately set about assuring investors that
South Africa’s economic policies will remain “stable, progressive and
unchanged.” ANC sources have also named the party’s deputy president, Kgalema
Motlanthe – a close ally of Zuma’s but regarded by many analysts as a sensible
choice – to replace Mr. Mbeki until elections next year, which Fourie says Zuma
will likely win.
“Make no mistake, Mr. Mbeki’s ouster…. has now opened the
road up for Jacob Zuma to take over.”
In terms of the legal position of Mr. Zuma, South Africa’s
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says it will appeal the judgment that
dismissed the corruption case against Zuma. But Fourie says the NPA is “likely
to be unsuccessful. There will be immense political pressure to drop the legal