Mbeki's legacy not his alone

On “the Mbeki legacy”, the Mail & Guardian has unwittingly echoed the Zuma camp’s rationale for removing Thabo Mbeki by treating him as a single person, abstracted from his context and without a perspective.

It is as though Mbeki ruled this country on his own, an appraisal that feeds on the myth of an isolated and alienated “philosopher president”. If anything, Mbeki was quintessential ANC, an integral and very key member, an arch-propagandist who embodied and expressed its spirit of democratic centralism, which places dominance at the top.

Moreover he was nominated twice as a state-presidential candidate by the ANC, led it in Parliament, ruled the country on its behalf and chaired the meetings of its executive council.
Even after he had participated in ousting Mbeki, supreme party apparatchik Kgalema Motlanthe did not have “enough words” to thank and praise Mbeki. At no stage in his almost decade-long presidency of both the party and the government did the ANC raise any objections to Mbeki’s statements or actions, including his positions on HIV/Aids. The principle of collective responsibility (and the ANC prides itself on collective leadership), as well as the dictum that silence is consent, make the entire ANC regime and party culpable for much of the “Mbeki legacy”.

Of course it is not Mbeki’s record as president that prompted his dismissal. Vengeance, stopping the prosecution of Zuma and other alliance or party suspects on the state’s alleged criminal list, as well as showing who the ANC’s chief induna is, was pivotal in this power and psychological warfare. The warriors finally, and ironically, got an obiter dictum, a legal opinion which they speciously used as a bullet in their otherwise song-and-dance-driven war machine.

Mbeki’s consent to this was cowardly, unprincipled and unpatriotic; it put the interests of the party, which only nominated him, above the people who voted him into office. 

That South Africa has the highest Aids infection and death rates is neither altogether Mbeki’s doing, nor coincidental. Legislation and other government-driven policies and programmes have engendered an environment that has escalated the pandemic. For example, the permissive pregnancy rules and social grants (especially for children) introduced by the Constitution and government have encouraged teenagers and unmarried women to have children on a large scale. The spread of Aids has been a consequence; the evidence is there for all to see. And so too there is a high correlation between this abnormal government-sponsored population explosion, on the one hand, and the deepening of the Aids crisis, of Malthusian poverty aggravation, moral degeneration and social disintegration on the other. This harvest of liberal democracy and ANC rule is now dubbed “the Mbeki legacy”.

The calamity facing South Africa is the doing of Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the Human Rights Commission far more than it is the product of Mbeki’s denialism. Yet Mbeki is singled out merely because of his undoubtedly insensitive and irresponsible comments, while the entire government is off the hook for its deeds. No doubt Mbeki is central in this tragedy; Zackie Achmat is right to call for his impeachment. But the government, especially the departments of health, education and social development, stands accused of measures that have escalated Aids. There has been dereliction of duty that makes the government an accessory to this horrendous pandemic, a veritable crime against humanity.

Mbeki is gone, but the policies and programmes driving the Aids pandemic are still in place. The passing away of Dr HF Verwoerd did not mean the end of apartheid—it was already codified. Not the man but the system needs to be removed and the environment reformed. This cannot be done unless the party and the constitutional framework that facilitates the spread of Aids are dealt with.

The Zuma ANC’s presidential deployee (a more accurate term than state president, for Kgalema Motlanthe is really a party-foisted person ruling without having been democratically elected), has mentioned Aids as an area of his concern. Of course this has pleased the gullible that someone is at last addressing the Aids problem.

But as long as the measures that have played a major role in the escalation of Aids remain, his utterances will be nothing but deceptive verbiage, as we have come to expect from this morally, ideologically and spiritually bankrupt party and regime. And we shall continue to get a raw deal from this lot—let alone the moral holocaust awaiting the country should Zuma accede to the presidency of the country. The “Mbeki legacy” on Aids would, indeed, be very benign by comparison.

The crisis induced by the axing of Mbeki is an occasion to review liberal democracy and the Constitution—that uneasy, syncretistic mixture of a hollow Westminster system and Soviet-like party dominance. It is time to explore and formulate a system that will vest power in people and not invest in the empty shells or Trojan horses that parties have become in Africa, including this country. A federal system, with constituency-based representation, would be appropriate for this diverse and complex land and it would free us from a cabal that is bent on retaining power for its own benefit, at the expense of the state and society.

Meshack Mabogoane is a former journalist and secretary general of the Forum of Black Journalists