It is very much an African custom to revere the dead even when they were awful while alive. So it is with Mbeki’s unceremonious demise. For most of his tenure, he was an ineffectual president yet some people lament his departure forgetting that he had a dismal record on many fronts. He hatched plots; he fired those who questioned him; he protected those close to him, such as Jackie Selebi, no matter what their misdemeanour, while he attacked those who dared to challenge him; he used his notorious on-line letter to mention enemies by name or by inference; he consistently supported rogue states even if contrary to SA’s official foreign policy, with Zimbabwe as the most obvious example.
Curiously, his mulish opposition to the science of HIV/AIDS made him intellectually suspect. His failures in this regard eclipsed the good he achieved and his legacy on the disease will haunt him for the rest of his life. Just two weeks ago Impumelelo hosted a two-day conference on HIV/AIDS bringing together about 30 award-winning organizations and the information revealed was astounding. At the coalface of the epidemic, these organisations knew what they were talking about and charged repeatedly that our statistics on HIV/AIDS were scandalous, given our status on the African continent. Unheard of during apartheid days, over 1000 people die a day of AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. Affecting mostly young women between the ages of 15 and 25, we now find that young women deliberately fall pregnant in order to access the child support grant; patients buy fraudulent medical certificates to say that their CD4 counts are low even when their health is improving, just so they can qualify for the disability grant; and the HIV/AIDS figures supplied by government are manipulated to show a decline when in actual fact the epidemic is increasing in certain age cohorts.
No wonder Manto Tshabalala cried at Mbeki’s departure. So she should. Her fortunes were directly tied to her loyalty to the president, and she more than anyone should resign, but riding on the coat tails of her husband’s seniority in the party she stays put. Like most cabinet ministers, she performed abominably and should have been fired several times during her term of office. Instead she gets rewarded with another post.
Those ministers who resigned in solidarity with Mbeki did so out of loyalty to the President and not the country. They should learn for New Labour Ministers in the UK government who resigned due to Gordon Brown’s lackluster performance as Prime Minister in the short time he has been in office. Those who stood up to him, left when they felt they could no longer support him. Here it is the other way around. Trevor Manuel stupidly said that he would resign because he served at the behest of the President yet would be available for re-appointment. What nonsense! That a Finance Minister could claim that he served the president and did not mean to affect the markets is extremely vain and Machiavellian at best.
As for the BIG FIVE - Essop Pahad, Ronnie Kasrils, Alec Erwin, Pumzile Mlambo-Ncguka, and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, we can only say good riddance. Their arrogance in high office despite their mediocre performance we can do well without. The question remains however.
Is the seismic shift from Mbeki to Motlanthe an improvement? I am tempted to say that anyone is better than Mbeki, but a lesson from this whole sorry saga should be that politicians with dubious records should not be rewarded with high office. The ANC should stop using political power to reward comrades and move away from the tendency of African leaders to enter political office as the route to instant wealth. The fracas in the ANC branches is precisely about that.
ANC members literally stab each other in the back about positions because political power means jobs and money with minimal qualifications. Many have been in the struggle for so long that they can do nothing else but politics and it is unfortunate that so many parliamentarians and local government officials are largely unskilled and under-qualified for the job, according to recent reports in the media.
The transition to Kgalema Motlanthe would be a positive move if the new leader appoints a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to prize open the arms deal; it would be, if the Travel Scandal in Parliament is opened up for thorough investigation; it would be, if all Constitutional agencies are overhauled with new independent professional staff at senior level who are not beholden to the ruling party or the executive and who will execute their jobs without fear or favour. But as someone said: “Why are we surprised when politicians play politics? It's not like they are supposed to be real adults . . . they are, after all, politicians and don't have real jobs and aren't playing around with their money.”