(This article was first published in the Daily News, Durban on October 9, 2008)
In the months and years ahead, much will be written about the removal of former president Thabo Mbeki from office just months before the end of his second and last term.
This process, of which Carl Niehaus’ “Breath of fresh air at last” (Daily News, October 6) in part, is, in fact, already under way.
His activist credentials will surely lend credence to his views in many quarters. For this reason, what he and other activists say must be appreciated, much as it must be examined. Consider Niehaus’s claim that Mbeki did not consult on cabinet appointments. This is simply not true, for he consulted with officials of the ANC. Niehaus was not and is not an official of the ANC.
The current president, Kgalema Motlanthe, has himself made it clear that in 1999 and 2004, he was not only consulted on cabinet appointments, but was, in fact, present when each of the ministers and deputy ministers was briefed about their new responsibilities.
Hardly the stuff of an “imperial decree” as Niehaus describes cabinet appointments under Mbeki. So who to believe, Niehaus or Motlanthe?
To be convincing about regurgitation of the often-stated claim that Mbeki did not work within a collective, Niehaus will have to examine the substance of Mbeki’s presidency in relation to the substance of ANC policies, cabinet decision-making processes, as well as the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic.
Non-partisan and non-opportunistic analysts would at least do some research and state what is fact, rather than conjecture.
Indeed, a problem does arise when individuals emerge from the woodwork to claim a stake in the opportunities that may arise in future, merely on the basis of tirades against those they perceive to have fallen out of favour. This does not help anyone understand the complexities of governance.
ANC members and activists cannot afford such omissions. It may come to pass that certain prevailing distorted notions of Mbeki’s presidency may, in the long run, render decision-making difficult in a country and world in which decisiveness is sometimes required. This is to say nothing of the confidential nature of many government decisions.
Consider, also, Niehaus’s assertion that “Even in (Mbeki’s) last hour, the presidency made a highly irresponsible announcement on the resignations of cabinet ministers, including that of Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel.”
He continues: “This was cynically aimed at causing financial instability, demonstrating the importance of Mbeki and cronies.”
Just how does he knows that his version is the truth? Or that there were no considerations other than the treacherous and egoistical one he asserts informed the issuing of the statement?
Posing these and other questions reveals the prejudiced nature of Niehaus’s contribution. Prejudiced because, rather than marshal facts to support his claims, Niehaus’s position (to which he is entitled) on Mbeki’s removal clouds his judgment. In the end, his becomes a mere anti-Mbeki tirade, which some advance for different reasons, real and imagined, objective and subjective, and if one may allow oneself a little Shakespearian speak: fair and foul.
And what are we to make of the acceptability of President Motlanthe’s cabinet on grounds of inclusion of two individuals that Niehaus happens to like? But this for another day.
Honesty is sacrosanct if we are to appraise social reality objectively, make a meaningful contribution to the exchange of ideas and, above all, learn.
Mukoni Ratshitanga is former president Thabo Mbeki’s spokesman and writes in his personal capacity.