Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
At the end of a milestone week, I put pen to paper to capture my thoughts on the sudden and deeply worrying changes in our political landscape.
When the African National Congress announced its decision to “recall” President Thabo Mbeki from office, I publicly voiced my concern that this represented the biggest challenge to South Africa since apartheid. I was not making a sensationalist statement or engaging in hyperbole. Rather, my fears were based on over half-a-century of experience in the public service.
Friends, we must understand that the ruling Party’s decision was not unlawful in any way.
Indeed, the change of leadership has taken place within the ambit (if not the spirit) of the Constitution. But it clearly holds serious consequences for the country’s political and economic stability and statecraft – especially in the present global economic meltdown. The latter, paradoxically, has, in my view, shielded the Rand from worse currency volatility.
And, as I said, whilst we must respect that the leadership of the ANC is a private matter for the ruling party – like the Nationalist Party in 1989 when Mr FW de Klerk eclipsed Mr PW Botha at home or, to use the most famous example in political textbooks, when the Conservative Party, in 1990, defenestrated Lady Thatcher after winning three general elections and reviving the economy – the decision of the ANC patently impacts upon all our lives.
Nor can we neatly separate the dividing line between the state and ruling-party: a danger I, and others, have been warning about for over a decade. In the post-Mbeki scramble for power, the ANC’s pride in “collective politics” and frequent invocation of “loyalty” and “discipline” is looking somewhat shabby.
It would be an exaggeration; a distortion, to speak of, as some have, a creeping constitutional coup d’état. Yet the Zuma wing of the ANC certainly dealt a coup de grâce to the Mbekite one. As an Opposition leader, one must place on record the envelope of political expediency is being pushed to the extreme. I hold serious reservations that Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgement – another judge could have, as we know, pronounced otherwise and the President did not have the opportunity to apply for leave to appeal – legitimised the ANC NEC’s decision.
Then there was last Tuesday’s chaos when one-third of the cabinet resigned; events with which I am sure, if he were still alive, Oscar Wilde would have had a field day. This, to me, demonstrated that the decision to recall President Mbeki was made with indecent haste; was ill-conceived, and ham-fistedly handled. Not only did they serve to further erode the political stability of SA, the “resignation” of the world’s longest-serving Minister of Finance caused a run on the Rand and sent jitters through the markets.
As for the more substantial question of evaluating President Mbeki’s record, I believe, on balance, history will judge President Mbeki as a towering figure who did much to consolidate President Mandela’s remarkable legacy.
I have known President Mbeki for nearly 30 years and have served alongside him for 10 of those years in Cabinet. It is self-evident to me, despite our differences due to the exigencies of political life, that this is a man who cares deeply about South Africa’s developmental challenges, stable economic framework and her place in the world.
In the long lens of history his record will be, for a while, restive, but President Mbeki will, perhaps, be remembered as the person who did more than any other individual to enhance his dream of an ‘African Renaissance’.
There is, of course, a negative side to Mr Mbeki’s scorecard as President: errors which I have not been shy to challenge.
Mr Mbeki and I often sparred when I served in both his and Mr Mandela’s cabinets. On one occasion, I said the President should recuse himself over his handling of HIV/Aids, and my tenure as Minister of Home Affairs ended with the President taking me to court over immigration legislation. My willingness to disagree and challenge him sometimes left me feeling that I would have got a warmer welcome if I was the sheriff coming to take the furniture!
But none of this prevents me from acknowledging that we were led for nearly 10 years by a talented patriot with a clear grasp of policy detail. He is a man who amounts to more than the, admittedly tempting and easy, technocratic caricature. How cruel the “greasy pole” of public life is!
Mr Mbeki possesses a sense of certitude and a shrewd intellect. He has no equal in the country in terms of government experience. I have seen how he can master an arcane brief quickly and, thanks to his many years of shuttle diplomacy, can easily locate domestic questions within a global framework (no easy task these days). I hope these talents will not be wasted by the incoming administration.
In the meantime, President Kgalema Motlanthe’s government has its work cut out to restore confidence at home and abroad in the integrity of our institutions; particularly in the independence of our judiciary and executive transparency and accountability. Such confidence thrives upon truth, obligations and protection. The government must move quickly and we can only wish them well.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 5557144