Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, September 22, 2008

The dust settles...
A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about Mbeki's recall over the past few days, so in order to some it up, here's a few of my talking points:

On its precedent
Many people have been telling me that this is unprecedented and is unconstitutional, which I think is the easiest one to clear up. Recall of a president by a ruling party is not at all unprecedented. Think Margaret Thatcher, think Tony Blair, think what Gordon Brown is currently facing. The British system, from which we draw a lot of our electoral system, has plenty of examples. This is neither unprecedented or unconstitutional in its process.

On Zuma
Zuma's role in this process has been both triumphant and weak at the same time. As Steven Friedman, my go to political analyst said on E-TV this weekend, one of the most dangerous things to come out of this process is the fact that Julius Malema looks (if in perception only) to be calling the shots. His loud-mouthed calls for the NEC to recall Mbeki before they had even met were widely reported, and after Mbeki's recall, there was a deafening silence from other leaders on the NEC, all we heard was Malema's glee. The ANC needs to get its leadership messaging house in order. Malema's cannot be the perceived voice of the organisation.

I will go further to say that Zuma's silence during this process as president of the ANC has been one of his greatest failures in the past few years. Regardless of his perceived involvement or not, he is the top man in the ANC party, and he should have been a much, much stronger voice. Calls for unity should be coming from him, not the secretary-general, and it only adds to the view that the ANC at present is suffering from an abject lack of strong leadership.

Regardless, Zuma looks free to now take his place as president-elect and will undoubtedly be the next president of South Africa (acting president aside).

On the NPA
Personally, I feel that this whole process was a mess of the NPA's (and Mbeki's) own making. As Judge Nicholson noted, if the NPA had charged Zuma with Shaik as they should have done five years ago, this would be a open and shut affair. The NPA's willingness to be used as a political weapon finds its consequence in the actions of the last four days.

Will the NPA recharge Zuma? With a caretaker head and all the political momentum against them, I think it's very unlikely. One can argue about the fundamentals of Zuma's guilt 'till the cows come home, but there is an element of realpolitik here. The NPA unfortunately cannot be willingly manipulated politically and then turn around and use a separation of powers argument. This matter is now probably best left closed. We need to move on.

On Mbeki's legacy
The sad element about these developments, is that they will forever overshadow Mbeki's two year term. Much of the good, and there is a lot of good, will be swept under the disgrace of being the first democratically elected president to resign his post before his term's closure. Mbeki's economic successes, his strong foreign leadership, his visions of African Renaissance, will be completely forgotten. I don't think history will judge Mbeki kindly, especially if there are further airings of the Arms Deal, as his successes have been less public and less pronounced than his failures. AIDS, the Arms Deal, the NPA-Zuma mess and Zimbabwe (current "deal" regardless) are big ticket items in the collective public consciousness, and will be his legacy.

On whether Mbeki will form an opposition party
In my view, this simply won't happen. As great as it would be for securing democratic principles in South Africa, Mbeki has given his life to the ANC, and would never turn his back on it, regardless of his recall.

On Motlanthe
With Kgalema Motlanthe to be named as acting president until the elections in April, South Africa in my view have the best man for the job. I hold a lot of respect for Motlanthe, and if I had my way, he'd keep the job after April. The decision to select Motlanthe over Mbete undoubtedly finds its antecedents in the need to keep the current cabinet in place to maintain political stability and an effective running government. Mbete's escalation may have meant the resignation of many in Mbeki's cabinet, leading to a collapse of government. One can patently see how dangerous this would be...