I suppose half the bloggers in the world will be writing about the departure of George Bush and the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president today, so why should I add my words to theirs when there have probably been far too many words already?
Yet if I’m still around in 8 years time, and if the world is still around in 8 years time, I’d like to look back on this day and see whether what I hoped and feared has come to pass.
I think probably most of the world will breathe a sigh of relief at the departure of George Bush.
There are plenty of other trigger-happy lunatic politicans in the world, willing to commit murder and mayhem for evil, trivial or even completely inexplicable reasons that one can only guess at. But none of them has the miliary weaponry and economic resources that George Bush had at his disposal. The USSR took on Afghanistan, and the result was that the Bolsheviks took a beating. George Bush invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the chickens are only now coming home to roost.
Bob Mugabe in Zimbabwe took a beating in the Congo, and is now taking it out on his own people. He doesn’t have the resources to spread anything more than cholera to other countries, thank God. Ehud Olmert bombed Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza this month. Osama bin Laden seems to be reduced to sending enigmatic videos to TV stations every few months.
But we can breathe a sigh of relief. At least George Bush never got round to bombing Iran or Venezuela, as some feared that he might.
Barack Obama is still an unknown quantity.
He has sung the praises of the pudding, but let’s see what the first spoonful tastes like. Let’s see if he can turn his rhetoric into reality. His rhetoric is good. As some journalists have noted, at least he speaks in complete sentences with comprehensible syntax, though some journalists say they will miss George Bush for his more incomprehensible utterances. As Rehana Rossouw said in The Weekender (17-18 Jan 2009)
I’m going to miss him mostly because he’s been a great source of comfort. For 10 years I’ve been able to take comfort when our political leaders stuff up by telling myself that there is someone in office worse than them.
And I must say I agree. When people knocked Thabo Mbeki and said he was such a bad president, I’d look at the leaders of other countries and realise how lucky we were. George Bush, Tony Blair, Ehud Olmert, Bob Mugabe, Vladimir Putin. Compared with them Thabo Mbeki looked positively angelic, and though he was no more able to restrain Robert Mugabe than George Bush was able to restrain Ehud Olmert he didn’t conduct bloody wars against countries on the other side of the globe.
But though I took comfort from the th0ught that people like George Bush were so much worse than Thabo Mbeki, I also can’t escape the thought that Barack Obama will be so much better. Even if he doesn’t manage to make things better in the short term, unlike Bush, I don’t think he will deliberately act to make them worse, by invading Iran, for example.
Whether the promised change we can believe in will materialise I don’t know. But for the moment I’m willing to settle for no change for the worse. And much of the threat of that is leaving with George Bush.
But then Jacob Zuma is waiting in the wings.
The Prez has gone.
President Thabo Mbeki resigned under pressure from his own party, after hanging on for nine months after he was replaced as ANC president at its conference at Polokwane last summer.
Announcing his resignation as president last night, Mbeki defended his legacy, which suffered a major blow when a Pietermaritzburg High Court judge ruled that he and his cabinet had interfered with the work of the independent prosecuting authority.
‘We have never done this and therefore never compromised the right of the NPA to decide whom it wished to prosecute or not to prosecute. This applies equally to the painful matter relating to the court proceedings against the president of the ANC, comrade Jacob Zuma,’ Mbeki said.
Other bloggers have commented ad nauseam, so why am I adding my chirp? I suppose it’s because of the reference to his legacy, and because the manner of his going is reminiscent of the departure of Tony Blair last year, which invites comparisons.
Thabo Mbeki and Tony Blair were pretty much political contemporaries, though in character they were very different. Tony Blair was more extrovert, Thabo Mbeki was always more taciturn. But they both dominated the politics of their countries from 1997-2007 — though Mbeki only became president in 1999 he was nevertheless taking a more active role in the couple of years before that as Nelson Mandela neared retirement.
Both made an impact on foreign affairs, though in different ways. Tony Blair was a belligerent warmonger, and led his country into three foreign wars — in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Thabo Mbeki was more of a peacemaker, trying to bring peace to troubled areas of the continent, though his extraordinary patience with dictators like Robert Mugabe did not seem to produce much fruit.
When I looked at the leaders of other countries, like George Bush and Tony Blair, I was glad we had Thabo Mbeki.
At home, however, he was far more ruthless, and just how ruthless is only now beginning to be revealed. He was ruthless in eliminating potential rivals — like Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma. When Sexwale and Ramaphosa abandoned politics for business I at first thought they were selling out, and showing that they were more concerned with making money than nation-building. But it now seems that they were keeping quiet out of loyalty to their ANC struggle comrades, and preferred not to cause a split. Only now has it been revealed to those outside the inner circle how they were forced out of politics.
One day historians will have to add up the pros and cons of Thabo Mbeki’s legacy, but on the whole I’m inclined to be sympathetic.
For me the most memorable moment of his career, and perhaps symbolic of the positive aspect of it, was when he acted out of character, threw aside his usual taciturnity, and joined in the celebrations of South Africa’s victory in the rugby world cup last year. The team hoisted him on their shoulders and that moment captured the best of his presidency and the best of South Africa and South Africa’s hopes. I can’t imagine the English team doing that to Gordon Brown if they had won.
It didn’t last, of course. The rugby team came home to acrimonious in-fighting and the dismissal of the successful coach, and Thabo Mbeki came back to much the same thing. But whatever his faults, and they are many, history can’t take that away from his legacy. It was a glimpse of what might have been, and in some sense still is.
A lot of the blame for the growing xenophobia among ordinary South Africans must be laid at the door of the government, says Justice Malala.
A cocktail of factors, mixed by the ANC over the past 10 years, is responsible for the barbarism.
These people are behaving like barbarians because the ANC has failed — despite numerous warnings — to act on burning issues that are well known for having sparked similar eruptions across the globe.
This cocktail is made up of stubborn denialism on Zimbabwe, an increasingly incompetent and corrupt police service, poor service delivery and corruption in government departments.
The crime-does-pay culture fostered by the ANC — criminals such as the Travelgate fraudsters walk away scot-free — is a central ingredient of the cocktail.
But the bulk of the cocktail comprises the failed state that is Zimbabwe. The country’s economy has collapsed. Its political leaders, security services and agents are looting the treasury. Zimbabweans are fleeing.
Malala tells it like it is, and there is no point in repeating what he says, far better than I could.
But a few points could be added. The police and immigration officials have harassed foreigners, even those who have valid residence permits, and tried to extort bribes from them, because of the culture of impunity. The move to incorporate the Scorpions into the police is part of this culture of impunity. But this attitude of the police encourages xenophobia. When South African passengers in taxis see foreigners being singled out for bullying, it sets an example that people follow.
South African observers of earlier Zimbabwean elections have said they were not free and fair, but they were told to say that they were free and fair, so they did.
I get the impression that Thabo Mbeki has shrunk over the years. When he first became deputy president, I regarded him as one of those who had fought for our freedom, but he has become more and more gnome-like. Back in 1991, at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, there was a communist-backed coup attempt. Gorbachev was on holiday at the Black Sea and was held incommunicado for several days, while Yeltsin in Moscow faced down the coup leaders. A few days later a cartoon appeared in some newspapers showing Yeltsin driving a car, with Gorbachev strapped into a child seat on the passenger side. Now one gets the impression that Mugabe is driving the car, and Mbeki is strapped in the child seat.
The government does not want to acknowledge that there are enormous numbers of refugees from Zimbabwe at present in South Africa, because to do so would be to acknowledge that there is a problem in Zimbabwe. And, sad to say, Zimbabweans are often better educated and harder-working than South Africans. Nearly 15 years after the end of apartheid, the government has failed to repair the damage done to the education system by Christian National Education. A whole generation of school children have gone through school without seeing very much improvement. By now, the school system in Zimbabwe has probably collapsed, but the average Zimbabwean aged between 25 and 35 is probably far better educated than their South African counterparts, and so find it easier to get jobs.
No one in their right mind expects Thabo Mbeki to behave like George Bush and to invade Zimbabwe to bring about regime change, but he could at least say something in favour of justice, freedom and democracy. We’ve heard his excuses for his impotence for the last eight or nine years now, and he’s still strapped in the child seat and can’t reach the steering wheel and the pedals, and his toy steering wheel fools no one but him.
But isn’t it a bit late for President Thabo Mbeki to be meeting with Eskom management to ascertain the extent of the problem? According to Cosatu, it was President Thabo Mbeki himself who opposed Eskom’s plans to expand its generating capacity.
My wife came in while I was working in my study, and said she had just seen a Sky News report on the ANC conference at Pholokwane, and ended by saying that it was very difficult to find out what Jacob Zuma stood for, and that if he ever became president, it would be a presidency more of style than of substance.
That puts it in a nutshell, I think.
Yesterday caught Thabo Mbeki’s address on the radio. Not the whole two hours, but just the last half hour or so. He spoke of the movement losing its moral compass, of people who joined the ANC for personal gain and motives very different from its original ethos. Judging from the applause, he was scratching where it itches, for somo people anyway.
I don’t usually listen to politicians’ speeches on radio or TV — they are usually too boring and filled with platitudes. But Mbeki spoke well. At least he has vision. One might not agree with everything in his vision, but at least he has one. But Zuma, as the TV reporter said, has style but no substance.
It was Guardian Unlimited that had the extraordinary innuendo that Thabo Mbeki was the worst president in the world. But here they publish the criteria by which, I believe, Thabo Mbeki looks a lot better than George Bush and Robert Mugabe. Hat tip to Douloi Johanna for the link.
To summarise: Naomi Wolf outlines 10 steps taken by most dictators to establish their dictatorship, and shows how they have been taken by the Bush administration in the USA. I don’t think it would be difficult to show that most of them have been taken by Mugabe in Zimbabwe as well. But in South Africa?
Of course all 10 were in place in South Africa under National Party rule, but they were removed in the democratisation process during the 1990s. They all now seem to be present in Zimbabwe as well as in the USA.
John Carlin, writing in the Guardian Unlimited, asks “Is Mandela’s heir one of the world’s worst presidents?” and after praising Mandela goes on to say:
Pity, then, about his successor, Thabo Mbeki, who chose the month when Mandela is immortalised in bronze to remind us of just how far short he falls of the best his country has to offer; how strong a candidate he is to rank, with his friend Robert Mugabe, among the worst Presidents in the world.
That’s really something, in a world in which George Bush and Robert Mugabe are still going strong. Of course Tony Blair was a Prime Minister, not a president, though his style seemed to have a lot in common with P.W. Botha’s imperial presidency. Tony Blair participated enthusiastically in not one, not two, but three wars of aggression, and Carlin has the unmitigated gall to ask if Thabo Mbeki is the worst president in the world?
But since Blair has retired, he’s out of the running. Bush and Mugabe are running neck and neck for first place in the race for the title “Worst president in the world”, so let’s leave them out of it.
I look around the world at presidents and prime ministers in various countries, and ask myself, “Would I rather have X as our president than Thabo Mbeki?” And in most cases, my answer is “No”. For all his faults, Thabo Mbeki is much better than many of the heads of government of other countries.
Who would I rather have?
Gordon Brown? John Howard? Vladimir Putin? Hugo Chavez? Nouri al-Maliki? Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir? Kostas Karamanlis? Angela Merkel? Levy Mwanawasa? Joseph Kabila? Romano Prodi? Guillaume Soro? Alexander Lukashenko? Ali Khamenei? Pervez Musharraf? Ehud Olmert?
I don’t think so!
Does Carlin seriously suggest that Mbeki is worse than all of those?
Mbeki has many faults, most notably his “see no evil” approach to Zimbabwe and his vacillating Aids policy, but he hasn’t yet started any wars of aggression, like Bush, or tried to suppress the opposition by force, like Mugabe.
But I’ve noticed this morning that Sky News is also trying to do a hatchet job on Mbeki, implying that he is urging people to put their faith in quack remedies rather than antiretroviral drugs. What I find interesting is that they don’t provide any evidence of their allegations — if they had a sound bite or a video clip of Thabo Mbeki saying this, it might be more convincing than the unsupported assertions that they have been making.
So I wonder — why do the Brit media suddenly have it in for Thabo Mbeki?
Thanks to Leo Africanus for the tip, though unfortunately he has disabled “Link to this post”.
As the urbane pipe-smoking Thabo Mbeki nears the end of his second term as President, people’s thoughts are turning to possible successors. And many people are becoming increasingly nervous about the suitability of Jacob Zuma, the heir-apparent.
There’s a whiff of scandal about Zuma, after his well-publicised connections with crooked businessman Shabir Shaik, and the play-within-a-play rape trial, which looked like a rather clumsy put-up job by people who were also nervous about the prospect of JZ as president.
And one can’t blame them for being nervous.
Whether any of the mud slung at him sticks or not, let’s face it, the man is thick. He’s even thicker than George Bush. I have a growing fear that he might do to South Africa what George Bush has done to the USA.
And some are suggesting that the constitution should be amended to allow Thabo Mbeki to serve a third term. That also makes me a bit nervous. Not that I think a third term of Thabo Mbeki would be a bad thing, but it only puts off the day when a successor needs to be found. And if the successor is someone like Jacob Zuma, or Mad Bob Mugabe, a third term would be horrible.
People are talking about roping in Tokyo Sexwale. Well, he didn’t destroy Gauteng when he was premier, so I rather hope he makes it. Any alternative to JZ seems a good idea. The more I think about the prospect of a JZ presidency, the more I appreciate Thabo Mbeki. When I look around at the political leaders of other countries, or at least the ones I know about, I think how lucky we are to have Mbeki. I’d much rather have him than someone like Bush, Blair, Putin or Mugabe.
And then I realise that I can’t actually name any others. When I was younger I used to take more interest in practical politics and could name the Presidents or Prime Ministers of a couple of dozen countries, and suddenly I realise that I no longer know most of them. Who ruled Zambia after Kaunda, or Tanzania after Nyerere? The only recent ones I remember are the ones who made wars, like Bush, Blair, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, Tudjman, Izetbegovic and Olmert. The names of the present rulers of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia escape me. As Shakespeare said, the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. That’s rather sad.
But back to Thabo Mbeki… In spite of his making some questionable decisions, I’d still rather have him than most of the others. But come to think of it, his pipe hasn’t been much in evidence lately. Has the anti-spoking lobby got to him? Has he given up smoking it? Or has he just given it up in public, as bad for his public image? Does he go out into the garden and only smke it when x metres away from a building, and preferably downwind of it?
How long will it be before the anti-smoking lobby excise all references to “pipe-weed” from Lord of the Rings, I wonder? And what would the Inklings make of the anti-smoking lobby?
The other pipe-smoking politician I remember is Harold Wilson, and I sometimes wonder if Thabo Mbeki hasn’t modelled himself on Wilson, at least to some extent. He’s probably a bit brighter than Wislon (as the Grauniad might have referred to him), but they have one thing in common. Wilson had great problems with Rhodesia and Smith, and Mbeki has great problems with Zimbabwe and Mugabe. Mbeki’s problems are a bit more serious, though. I don’t think 3 million Rhodesian refugees went to Britain.