Mbeki and the counter-revolution

R.W. JOHNSON / Thabo Mbeki has re-entered the lists with a lengthy speech setting out his interpretation of the last thirty years. (Editor’s note: the author is referring to an address by Mbeki at an event commemorating 30 years of democracy in Freedom Park, Pretoria, on 30 April.) Not unreasonably, he follows the formulation of Dr John Endres (whom Mbeki persistently mis-spells as Endress) in dividing the period into a broadly satisfactory first thirteen years and a disastrous subsequent seventeen years. However, Mbeki is writing in self-praise, and a great deal of his history is faulty.

Like most ANC leaders, Mbeki refers to “350 years of cruel white minority colonial and apartheid rule”. Yet the fact is, of course, that very few Africans in South Africa would even have seen a white person before about 1850. One wonders, indeed, whether anyone in the ANC knows anything about South African history before, say, 1945. It would be interesting to quiz ANC leaders. Do they know who Andries Stockenstrom was? Or John Molteno? Or Theophilus Shepstone? Or John X. Merriman? Or Louis Botha? Usually they have their own rather slanted picture of The Struggle, and they extend that backwards into a purely imaginary past.

Mbeki seems to think he can take similar liberties even with the very recent past. Thus, for example, he insists that the RDP was only “slightly recast” after 1994 and that thereafter it was followed by “programmes which complemented and did not replace the RDP, as some have wrongly argued”. Perhaps he could explain why it was that he, Alec Erwin and Trevor Manuel met secretly for months putting together the GEAR programme which effectively replaced the RDP; why word of this was carefully kept from Jay Naidoo, the Minister for the RDP; and why Naidoo then lost his job once GEAR was announced ? Or why all mention of the RDP quickly faded from public speech?

Or again, Mbeki tries to convince us that there were no power cuts before 2014. But this is, of course, quite untrue. One remembers only too well how the repeated power cuts of those years led to much anxiety about how the 2010 Soccer World Cup could be staged – only for the government to “solve” this problem by cancelling all maintenance at Eskom for the duration.

In Mbeki’s version, there is no mention of Eskom’s warning to the Cabinet in 1998 that unless new power stations were built, there would be power cuts by 2008. Nor is there any mention of how the specifications for Medupi and Kusile were manipulated to ensure that Chancellor House/Hitachi got the contract as an underhand way of funding the ANC, and that this in turn is why those power stations have never worked properly.

To be fair, Zuma is also campaigning on the claim that there were no power cuts under his presidency. What we don’t know is whether these senior leaders both have Alzheimer’s, or really believe they can kid us along?

Mbeki also makes no mention of his disgraceful support for the Nigerian despot Sani Abacha, his similar support for the murderous Robert Mugabe, his deliberate attempts to cover up Mugabe’s election-rigging, or even his Aids denialism, which cost far more black lives than were lost in the whole apartheid period. Similarly, Mbeki has much to say against corruption and those who put their hands in the till, but he never mentions the scandal which birthed all that, the arms deal, and how he exerted maximum pressure to stifle any parliamentary inquiry into it. When newspapers published reports suggesting that Mbeki himself had profited handsomely from the arms deal, he notably failed to deny it, let alone sue.

However, this is almost by the way. The main theme of Mbeki’s peroration is that almost everything that has gone wrong under the ANC is the work of “the organised counter-revolution”. As was frequently observed under Mbeki’s presidency, he exhibits a well-developed paranoia. Here he simply asserts that the apartheid-era  Military Intelligence created this conspiracy which, apparently, continued to operate year after year throughout the ANC’s period in government – right up to today.

As with all the earlier imaginings of a Third Force, there are no names, no examples, no dates – and indeed, no evidence at all. Yet Mbeki can write that “One of the important decisions taken by the counter-revolution … was to ensure that (the ANC) fails in its task properly to govern our country”. Is that, one wonders, how he explains the arms deal? The support for Abacha or Mugabe? His Aids policy? His failure to listen to Eskom’s warning in 1998? If so, then it would seem that Mbeki was a willing accomplice of the counter-revolution. Could he perhaps explain how he knows about this “important decision”? If he has the slightest iota of evidence, surely he would show it?

The oddity is that the negotiations for the transition began by Mbeki talking extensively to the apartheid security services. And the leadership of the then NIS was kept in place right through the transition, and was used to instruct the ANC in  intelligence skills – something that could only happen with Mbeki’s agreement. Moreover, the minister in Mandela’s government who most regularly consorted with former members of the apartheid security services was Joe Modise – and there is no shortage of people who believe that Modise had long been in cahoots with them. Yet Modise was a particularly close associate of Mbeki’s and the principal architect of the arms deal, which Mbeki was so determined to cover up.

What is curious is that Mbeki refers repeatedly to “the counter-revolution”, but there are never any names, dates or anything else to dispel the suspicion that these are all figments of his paranoid imagination. Thus he says that the ANC “did much to discover and expose those enemy agents (in its ranks), but the hard reality is that a considerable number remained undiscovered within our ranks”. Why then is he unable to name even one of these enemy agents who were discovered and exposed?

But Mbeki is still getting into his stride. He then insists that the counter-revolution “intervened at Polokwane” in 2007 – that is, that his own sweeping defeat at Jacob Zuma’s hands was actually the work of this fifth column. Again, of course, not the slightest shred of evidence is offered. Let us pass over the absurdity of Zuma as an apartheid spy – his relationship with the quite opposite Russian GRU is much in evidence. So Mbeki lost at Polokwane because of the united opposition of Cosatu, the SACP, the ANCYL and some 60% of the ANC delegates – all of them apparently working for the counter-revolution! Indeed, they actually were the counter-revolution. This is so preposterous that one is embarrassed for Mbeki. It is just not seemly for a grown man, let alone an ex-president, to come out with these spoilt child fantasies of self-exculpation and blaming.

But there’s no stopping him. We then learn that in short succession the counter-revolution manipulated the SAPS, the NPA, the Department of Health, and quite a few of the SOEs. Again, no scrap of evidence. And then – like Ramaphosa, like many other ANC leaders – there is a belated admission that “we made mistakes”. Yet this is a purely pro forma admission: these mistakes are never explained in detail, and we are never actually told what they are or were.

But by this point Mbeki is working up to the inevitable Happy Ending. He ruefully admits that “there is still a huge divide between the rich and the poor” – though, of course, he does not explain why inequality has actually increased quite sharply under ANC governance. And ”We are now raising the intellectual capacity and enhancing the moral and ethical  orientation of our membership”. Really? Is that why Bongani Bongo, Malusi Gigaba and Supra Mahumapelo are still on the ANC electoral list ?

At the end of this farrago of nonsense, Mbeki announces that he will shortly hold a National Dialogue. No doubt a lot of silly people will want to join in, though it is difficult to imagine that this will produce much beyond boredom and vacuity. What would be really interesting would be if Mbeki could name a few of the leaders of the counter-revolution – and invite them. Let the dog see the rabbit. At the very least, that would enliven proceedings and, heaven knows, we could all do with a laugh.

FEATURED IMAGE: Former president Thabo Mbeki delivering his controversial address at an event commemorating 30 years of democracy in Freedom Park, Pretoria, on 30 April. Picture: Screenshot from SABC News video on Youtube.

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