On Mbeki, a R5 coin and the missing pages of history
Sometime towards the end of his term as South African Reserve Bank governor in 2009, Tito Mboweni sought a meeting with Thabo Mbeki, who had stepped down as president of the republic some months previously.
I remember that afternoon as if it were yesterday. The governor informed Mbeki that, according to convention, the Reserve Bank mints commemorative R5 coins with an image of a president after he retires in honour of their service to the country. The Reserve Bank had done the same thing for Nelson Mandela when he retired as president in 1999.
Mboweni assigned a senior official at the bank to manage the assignment.
I was honoured to be assigned as the liaison official from Mbeki’s office.
The two of us worked well to produce the design for the coin, which Mbeki then approved.
In line with the procedures, the Reserve Bank drafted and submitted a memorandum to Cabinet for approval of the production of the coin. Alas, the matter died there.
Concerned about what I then thought was a delay, I made some inquiries. Two very senior officials at the bank informed me that for some strange reason, some in Cabinet believed that President Mbeki was undeserving of such an honour.
In those days some, in and outside Cabinet, industriously worked to expunge the 1999 – 2008 Government Chapter out of the biography of the history of post apartheid South Africa.
Mbeki’s official government and party speeches as well as other writings such as his weekly letter on ANC Today also disappeared from the ANC and government websites. They resurfaced later, albeit incomplete. A modern local variant of some of the vulgarity of the Spanish Inquisition? The subliminal view certainly bears some resemblance and its intrinsically anti-democratic nature should worry us deeply.
So, since 2009 to this day, the ANC and government leadership have made every effort to try to obliterate from the public consciousness all understanding that as progress was achieved by the ANC and our country between 1999 and 2007, Thabo Mbeki was president of both institutions. There has thus been a sustained campaign to propagate the absurdity that the Mandela administration was succeeded by the Zuma administration, with nothing in between!
There has been a sustained campaign to propagate the absurdity that the Mandela administration was succeeded by the Jacob Zuma administration, with no one in between.
It is not Mbeki that is the issue. Rather, it is the integrity of our history — both the positives and negatives — that the crude and deliberate deletion of the pages affronts. It is a form of violence on the collective memory of a people and their right to lessons from history in their struggles to fashion a future.
Nine years after the death of the Mbeki R5 coin, the ruling party has retired another head of state. In this hour of our national renewal, which can only meet that test if it is underpinned by truth, consistency and justice, I would not want to be in the shoes of the decision-makers of the Reserve Bank and the Cabinet.
Mukoni Ratshitanga served as spokesperson for Thabo Mbeki. He writes in his personal capacity