Why The Belated and Angry Outcry to the Recall of Thabo Mbeki?

By John Reynolds · 10 Oct 2008

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Picture: afrol.com
Picture: afrol.com

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 vision. I’m sure that if the present leadership of the ANC could have predicted the fall-out of its recall of President Thabo Mbeki, it would have hesitated long enough to maybe, just maybe, not go through with it.

But such was the heady brew of power and retribution at the time that zeal trumped reason – where, to paraphrase the philosopher Robert C Solomon, a sense of injustice became wholly obsessed with resentment and a preoccupation for revenge outweighed all other considerations. Now we have to live out the consequences of that ill-fated decision.

It was a bad decision on so many fronts: Mbeki's long years of service to the ANC. The fact that he only had six months remaining of his tenure. The undignified exit. The political uncertainty it brought to the country. The disruption of government. The message it sent to the markets. The deepening of the divisions in the ANC that it caused. The hardening of positions it has resulted in. The threat of a split in the ANC that it has ignited. The interruption to the mediation process in Zimbabwe. The many unfinished international projects that Mbeki was hoping to wind up -- one could go on and on.

But perhaps most short-sighted of all about this decision was that the ANC was not simply recalling, as it tried to portray it, a deployee of the movement -- it was recalling the President of South Africa. Once he was elected into that high office, Mbeki became more than just an office-bearer of the ANC; he became the representative of the country. He belonged not just to the ANC, but also to the country as a whole.

Recalling him should therefore have been a decision taken in the interests of the country as a whole and not just in the interests of a particular group and its alliance partners. If indeed Mbeki had become such a liability to the country, there were constitutional and parliamentary processes that could have been followed to remove him as President of the country.

This is why there is this groundswell of anger, sympathy and support that is beginning to grow. It is beginning to dawn on ordinary citizens that they have been the victims of a largely faceless coup d’état carried out by a vindictive grouping that was all too ready to put their narrow factional interests above that of the country as a whole.

Worse, for a grouping supposedly committed to the unity of the ANC, it was even prepared to put the settling of scores with Mbeki above working to heal the divisions in the party. Surely it did not take a great deal of insight to see that recalling Thabo Mbeki would deepen, exacerbate and even create new tensions, divisions and conflicts.

It is not surprising then that the ANC is in the turmoil that it is in or that the country is in a state of anger. And it is certainly NOT, as Jacob Zuma wants to suggest, because of ‘loyalty’ to an individual. There are many who do not support the decision to recall Mbeki who are among his harshest critics. It is about principle, decency and integrity. 

As a relatively young democracy still struggling to entrench our institutions and deepen a culture of accountability, it does not bode well when a victorious faction in a political succession struggle uses its majority to usurp a constitutional prerogative.

And no bullying, bleating or shouting that Mbeki was an ANC deployee will change this reality. He was the victim of a political plot by the dominant faction in the ANC and its alliance partners. Is this the precedent then that the ‘new’ leadership of the ANC wants to set?

The question ordinary citizens are now asking is: is this the kind of leadership our country wants? More to the point, after years of struggle for an accountable, democratic system of government, is this the kind of leadership that our country deserves?

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Rory Short
11 Oct


No country deserves an intemperate, revenge seeking clique as its leadership. The current leadership of the ANC makes great claims to have got there democratically. Going by their attitudes and public behaviour and utterances they do not seem like natural democrats to me so I would guess that they actually got there through abusive manipulation of the governance structures within the ANC.

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