Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mbeki: Indispensable or Simply Arrogant?
Very interesting op-ed piece in the Business Day yesterday, written by UCT public policy lecturer, Anthony Butler. Butler investigates the driving forces behind Mbeki's desperation to hang on to the ANC party presidency, ultimately argues that it is due to his perception of his own "indispensability", and then goes on to debunk that notion.
Under close examination, however, the arguments advanced for Mbeki’s indispensability are even less persuasive than those put forward by Putin’s or Chavez’s champions. First, there is the purported need for the president to safeguard his “economic legacy”. Mbeki’s degree in economics once boosted business confidence, especially in the days when Trevor Manuel, Tito Mboweni and Pravin Gordhan were considered leftist radicals. Today, however, talented economists such as Jabu Moleketi have burst through the ranks and fresh ideas about how to reduce poverty and unemployment have supplanted Mbeki’s tired economic orthodoxies.

Mbeki also has no remedy to offer for the limited participation of black South Africans in the formal economy. As Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena told delegates at last week’s Black Management Forum, after a decade of Mbeki’s rule, whites still control 70% of the land, 98% of the banks, “all” manufacturing and tourism, and the overwhelming majority of precious metal reserves.

A second claim by Mbeki’s circle is that a power handover would create an insoluble challenge of continuity planning. Those not in government, they observe, necessarily “lack the experience” to be considered for high office. But does the current assemblage of ministers, directors-general, security chiefs and political managers really represent an irreplaceable national treasure whose hard- accumulated knowledge must be safeguarded at any cost?

Third, Mbeki’s people now implausibly claim that only they can resolve problems that result from their own past mistakes. Many health professionals, for example, believe that SA’s HIV/AIDS crisis has been made immeasurably more dangerous by sluggish interventions under Mbeki, and they now fear the rise of the sinister menace of drug resistant tuberculosis. Mbeki’s team remains eerily calm. Asked about slow implementation of government AIDS programmes, his health minister recently remarked that “Rome was not built in one day”.
An interesting read.