Lessons from the Mbeki letters

Thabo Mbeki jan 24 INDEPENDENT MEDIA Former president Thabo Mbeki File picture: Masi Losi/Independent Media

Megalen Govender unpacks the lessons South Africans have learnt from a series of open letters by former president Thabo Mbeki.

'The tragedy of history: When caricature displaces the truth'

In the this letter published on January 11, 2016, Mbeki explains how history is written by the victors. He uses the example of Winston Churchill, who was criticised for writing an embellished version of the history of World War II in which Churchill made himself look 'good'.

In This letter we learnt that not all reported South African history was written by people who were anything more than observers and that, until such a time that people actually involved in South Africa's apartheid struggle write a book, the written history of South Africa will be slanted and not completely authoritative.

'When your position can't be sustained, create a scarecrow - The menace of post apartheid South Africa'

We learnt that that when the ANC came into power in 1994, the ANC could not comprehend or foresee the challenges that lay in wait for South Africa's first democratic government.

What we can learn from this letter is that the first democratic ANC government was not a well-oiled machine like the party had been. There were kinks and difficulties in government and the knock-on effect was a deterioration in the way the once efficient and cohesive ANC was run.

The reasons for this, according to Mbeki, were because members of the ANC leadership were deployed to work in state structures, something that they had not done before and the effect of this was that these members were not able to devote the same amount of time to the ANC, as a party, as they once did.

'Yet another myth: Mbeki and the monopolisation of Power'

Zuma was suspended as Deputy President of South Africa in 2005, pending the result of his court case but Zuma was not suspended as Deputy President of the ANC.

Zuma stepped down voluntarily from that position of power in order to focus on his court case. However, at the 2005 ANC National General Conference, calls were made by party members to reinstate Zuma as Deputy President of the ANC. According to Mbeki, this was part of a politically motivated plot to make it seem that Jacob Zuma had been suspended as Deputy President of the ANC rather than having stepped down of his own volition.

In this letter we are also made aware of the undertones of the ANC according to Mbeki. Mbeki's letter seems to insinuate that the ANC in 2005 was not a single-minded movement but rather a movement that was divided into factions with completely different agendas, factions that were seemingly at opposition to each other.

'Dare you ponder the obvious: Of course Mbeki is aloof'

Throughout the article, Mbeki alternates between referring to himself in the first person and in the third person, something that is initially highly disconcerting as it feels a little schizophrenic at times.

This piece revolves very much around Mbeki's fall from grace within the ANC and South Africa. Mbeki acknowledges his failings as a leader and as a president, accepting that he did seem distant and disconnected and he attempts to relay his acceptance of this with honesty.

He offers excerpts from journalists who criticised him, accepting the criticism in a constructive fashion but occasionally becoming defensive.

Karima Brown is lauded for explaining well in advance that he was indeed a leader who would never be endeared to the people of South Africa because he was aloof yet he defends himself by stating in the same breath that he was always very closely connected with the leadership on the ANC and South Africa.

A quote from Karima Brown's article sums up some of the factors that alienated Mbeki from his people in the first place.

“It is of course nearly impossible to love Mbeki. Not in the way one can love Mandela, or even, for that matter, Zuma. “Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep a’ night,” said Caesar to Mark Anthony. “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.” - Karima Brown

In his letter about the abuse of state power for a larger goal, Mbeki explains how he suspended Advocate Pikoli from the National Department of Public Prosecutions in order to avert an issue of national security which would have lead to inter-governmental conflict between the NDPP, the SAPS and the Scorpions (DSO) due to Pikoli's investigation of the then SAPS National Commissioner, Jackie Selebi.

Pikoli refused to give Mbeki two weeks before invoking a search warrant for Selebi's home, instead insisting on waiting only one week. According to Frene Ginwala, who replaced Pikoli, although the presidency had assisted the investigations of the NDPP to great lengths, Pikoli's refusal to adhere to the president's request and his admittance that he would have defied the president had he still been the NDPP, would have plunged the nation into chaos due to the tension it would have caused.

According to Mbeki, he makes it seem that had he not suspended Pikoli, Pikoli would have been a perpetrator of a true abuse of power.

'Propaganda and the pursuit of Hegemonic goals: The Myanmar and Zimbabwe experience'

The letter deals with tools for invasion meaning, in simple terms, a justifiable reason, whether true or untrue, to invade a country with armed forces in the pursuit of a particular agenda.

Mbeki stresses that human rights issues are being used as tools for invasion and to overthrow governments.

Nigeria's General Abacha had Ken Saro-Wiwa and two other South African prisoners executed, in 1995, after giving his word to a South African delegation in Nigeria that Abacha would let the accused men return home.

President Mandela left for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in New Zealand and received the news that the South African prisoners in Nigeria were executed. Mandela responded with outrage and condemned Nigeria at the OAU, leaving South Africa standing alone in their condemnation of Nigeria in Africa.

The United States of America used propaganda to invade Iraq under the guise that America was going to disarm Iraq of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

When it was revealed that Iraq was not in possession of any such weapons, America changed the excuse to a 'human rights' issue, stating that they were invading Iraq to bring about change, democracy and freedom.

The United Nations is not powerful or respected enough to stop the United States of America from doing as they please, with America being the world's most formidable superpower.

America went against strict instructions from the United Nations not to invade Iraq in 2003 and the UN was powerless to stop them.

Mbeki proposes the solution is for the UN to become respected and enforce decisions that they make, even if it means being on the opposing side to America and losing their support rather than siding with America and being 'bullied' into submission in a sense.

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