Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

The Mbeki legacy and the Zuma prospect

Thabo Mbeki’s presidency was anything but what Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s political doctor, had ordered. After excising the apartheid from South Africa’s wounded politic and stitching the social wound between the formally segregated races, Nelson Mandela passed the reigns on to Mr. Mbeki and, while it didn’t instantly go downhill, he became to South Africa what James Buchanan is to the United States: effectively, a do-nothing president.

After recognizing several weeks ago that his presidency had been a nightmarish gaffe, Mr. Mbeki stepped down from South Africa’s highest political pillar. Or, was it the African National Congress (ANC), his own political party that, “in the interest of making the country move forward,” told him to step down?

One of the most unknown facts of South African politics is that the ANC rules the country like a pacifist despot. Since 1994, the year Mr. Mandela became president, it has held nearly 70 percent of the popular vote in every national election and most provincial and local elections. In 2005, it somehow convinced its political arch enemy, the National Party –– the party guilty of beginning the apartheid –– to join its forces. This may well be a reaction to all the poverty, epidemics and corruption caused by apartheid politics, but it will be interesting to see how the ANC reacts when and if its popularity begins to decline.

Regardless of intra-ANC quibbles, its decision to sack Mr. Mbeki was pragmatic and even necessary. Otherwise, South Africa may have had to suffer through another one of the helmsman’s blunders, which, lately, have come in droves.

Earlier this year, an “electricity emergency” –– as Mr. Mbeki’s government coined it –– short circuited South Africa’s economic growth, political stability and, most of all, its society. It forced the mining industry to shut down and forced many businesses to close their doors, only adding to the nation’s dismal unemployment rate of 25 percent.

Abroad, Mr. Mbeki failed to condemn Robert Mugabe’s tyrannical regime and, consequently, broker any deal that would give the people of Zimbabwe a say in their presidential election. Instead, he presided over the current power-sharing arrangement which only further legitimizes Mugabe’s crimes against humanity.

Mr. Mbeki’s biggest blunder, however, has been ignorance of his country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over 5.5 million South Africans are stricken with HIV, and AIDS is said to kill over 800 people a day. For his entire rule, Mr. Mbeki denied that there was any scientific link between HIV and AIDS. Moreover, he disregarded the death figures associated with AIDS, instead blaming them on malnutrition and, hence poverty –– another issue with which he has dealt poorly.

His recent demise came at the hands of the man who has succeeded him within his party and will most likely succeed him in the presidency, Jacob Zuma, who he fired in 2005 under false suspicions of corruption. The whole Mbeki-Zuma dichotomy within the ANC is much like the Obama-Clinton one within the United State’s Democratic Party. Though the ANC will almost certainly win next April’s election, many Mbeki supporters cannot fathom a Zuma administration and there are rumors that they may leave to form a new party to contest the election. Many Zuma supporters, on the other hand, may stay at home, disheartened that Mr. Mbeki may seek a third term.

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