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Published in South Africa by:

Wits University Press 1 Jan Smuts Avenue Johannesburg


Published edition copyright © Wits University Press 2010 Compilation copyright © Edition editor 2010 Chapter copyright © Individual contributors 2010

First published 2010

ISBN 978-1-86814-502-7

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher, except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act, Act 98 of 1978.

Edited by Pat Tucker Cover design and layout by Hothouse South Africa Printed and bound by Ultra Litho (Pty) Ltd.







1 MBEKI AND HIS LEGACY: A critical introduction




2 MBEKI’S LEGACY: Some conceptual markers













Mbeki and the law










The Treatment Action Campaign versus Thabo Mbeki,






Racism, technique and the Mbeki administration




Did Thabo Mbeki help or hinder?


















For their roles in inspiring, managing and copy editing this publication I thank various members of the staff of Wits University Press, including Julie Miller, Veronica Klipp and Pat Tucker. I thank too those – including Abigail Booth, Gilbert Khadiagala, Shireen Hassim, Peter Hudson, Tawana Kupe, Sheila Meintjes, David Shepherd and Ursula Scheidegger – whose suggestions and organisational input made possible the conference upon which this book drew. The conference was also made possible by a grant from the University of Witwatersrand’s Faculty of Humanities to its School of Social Sciences, gratefully received. I thank, finally, the conference speakers, chapter contributors and anonymous reviewers for supplying what lies at the heart of both the conference and the book: intellectual stimulation and critical engagement.

Daryl Glaser, University of the Witwatersrand August 2010



Asian-African Sub-Regional Conference


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome


AIDS Law Project


African National Congress


ANC Youth League


Anti-Privatisation Fund


African Peer Review Mechanism


African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund




Association of South East Asian Nations


African Union


Anti-War Coalition


Azanian People’s Organisation




Black economic empowerment


Basic Income Grant


Commission on Gender Equality


Canadian International Development Agency


Common national identity


Convention for a Democratic South Africa


Congress of the People


Congress of South African Trade Unions


Centre for Policy Studies


Centre for Southern African Studies


Democratic Alliance


Department of Foreign Affairs


Department for International Development


Department of National Education


Department of Public Service and Administration



Democratic Republic of Congo


Directorate of Special Operations


Electoral Task Team


Forum of Black Journalists


International Federation of Association Football


Freedom of Expression Institute


Government Communication and Information System


Gross Domestic Product


Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy


Human Immunodeficiency Virus


Human Sciences Research Council


International Atomic Energy Agency


India-Brazil-South Africa


Independent Complaints Directorate


Institute for Democracy in South Africa


Independent Electoral Commission


International Monetary Fund


Incident Reporting Information System


Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons


Johannesburg Metro Police Department


Joint Investigating Team


Landless People’s Movement


Millennium Africa Recovery Plan


Medicines Control Council


Millennium Development Goals


New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership


National AIDS Co-ordinating Committee of South Africa


New African Initiative


Non-Aligned Movement


National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS


National Business Initiative


National Director of Public Prosecutions


New Partnership for Africa’s Development


Non-governmental organisation


National Intelligence Agency


National Party



National Prosecuting Agency


Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty


National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS and Sexually


Transmitted Infections Organisation of African Unity


Outcomes-based education


Official development assistance


Open Democracy Advice Centre


Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development


Promotion of Access to Information Act


Policy on mother-to-child transmission


Research and Education in Development


Regulation of Gatherings Act


South African Broadcasting Corporation


South African Council of Churches


South African Communist Party


Southern African Development Community


South African Human Right Commission


South African Medical Association


South African Non-Governmental Organisation Coalition


South African Press Association


South African Police Service


Standing Committee on Public Accounts


Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee


Treatment Action Campaign


Union of African States


United Nations


United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural


Organisation Unites States of Africa


World Summit on Sustainable Development


World Trade Organisation


Young Communist League


Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front








A critical introduction


Is there an Mbeki legacy? Looking back at Thabo Mbeki’s presidency from a vantage point of mid-2010 an observer might easily conclude that that legacy – such as it is – consists in three classes of phenomena:

mayhem caused and now needing to be repaired (policies on AIDS and Zimbabwe), batons merely passed from Mbeki’s predecessor to his successor (a functioning democracy and mixed economy) and seemingly equal-and-opposite reactions elicited among the former president’s many enemies (the internal ANC rebellion against Mbeki and subsequent efforts by the victorious rebels to establish a ‘not Thabo Mbeki’ style of governance). It is the third class – the reactions elicited – that will seem to many the most important for understanding South African governance now, and therefore to constitute Mbeki’s most palpable legacy.


This being so, why should there be a book, now, about Thabo Mbeki and his legacy? For one thing, public interest in Mbeki remains surp- risingly strong – as evidenced, for example, by advance sales for books about the former president. The interest is partly (still) in the man, even as he sulks in retirement. Biographers, columnists and political scientists have felt compelled to retool as amateur psychologists the better to understand the former president’s psychic complexity. And Mbeki’s was a consequential complexity: his sensitivity to racial slight directly influen- ced government approaches to the AIDS pandemic and the crisis in Zimbabwe; feelings of insecurity and even paranoia arguably lay behind the former president’s efforts to run his political rivals out of town; Mbeki’s contempt for those he considered of lesser ability than himself doubtless fuelled his search for centralised command and control, his secrecy, and his stubborn refusal of unsolicited advice (Gumede 2005:

163-4, 179-82; Gevisser 2007: 230-5, 284, 440-43, 740, 793; Johnson 2009: 178-221, 233-38, 340-67). Just as ‘interestingly’, Mbeki seemed to be more than one man:

charmer of whites and race-baiter, technocrat and nationalist romantic, free-market convert and developmental-statist, globaliser and Third- Worldist, champion of the black bourgeoisie and bearer-of-warnings about society’s descent into crass materialism. What made the man tick? What else but fascination with this question could explain the turnout of well over a thousand people to the launch of Mark Gevisser’s biography of Mbeki, even as the president’s powers were waning? There is more to his interestingness than that, however. There remains a widespread sense that Mbeki cannot but have made a real difference to the way South Africa is run even now – and that this difference is not reducible to the aforementioned negative reactions to his style and policies. The Mbeki period arguably encompassed South Africa’s entire post-1994 democratic experience up to 2008. As deputy-president Mbeki exerted considerable influence throughout



Nelson Mandela’s presidential tenure; according to some, he was ‘de facto prime minister’ (Gevisser 2007: 658; see also Gevisser 2007: 702; Johnson 2009: 54-6, 99-100, 137-8). Mbeki was deeply present in establishing, even before he assumed the presidency in 1999, the coordinates of South Africa’s pragmatic but Third-Worldist foreign policy and its market-oriented economic policy. These remain, essentially, the coordinates of this country’s foreign and economic policy, notwithstanding the Left’s efforts to steer the new administration onto a more decisively pro-poor course, or indeed Mbeki’s own belated (re)discovery of the activist state. Mbeki also helped to rally, augment and empower a black middle class. Of course, even the ‘positive’ legacies are Mbeki’s only up to a point. Some of them – notably the economic and class ones – doubtless bear the impress of structural forces like the implosion of the Soviet bloc, neo-liberal ‘globalisation’ and underlying socio-economic shifts. Mbeki was, moreover, joined by other important figures (perhaps an entire nascent elite) in exercising the choices that these structural forces left open. It is, after all, precisely the legacies most clearly stamped with Mbeki’s personal agency – notably on AIDS – that are now being decisively overthrown. The ones that endure may be those Mbeki served in part as a kind of historical vector. It is thus not without some justification that three contributors, Friedman, Vale and Duncan, implicitly question the framing of this collection around Mbeki the man. At the same time few would deny that Mbeki the man helped to shape South Africa’s particular local reception of the ‘collapse of Communism’ and of globalisation and its particular reconfiguration of race-class relations. Mbeki was no cipher:

notwithstanding the new ruling elite’s failure to secure economic power comparable to its political sway, it gained remarkably rapid control of a modern state and, for a good while, it remained in the thrall of Mbeki, kept there by, amongst other factors, the call of black solidarity,



the ANC’s collective discipline and the lure of executive patronage. For about ten years from the mid-1990s Mbeki enjoyed a margin of real power to sculpt South Africa’s emerging order. That in the end he lost control of it in so many ways – see violent crime, xenophobic pogroms, service delivery protests, the Polokwane conference rebellion

– does not gainsay this point. This collection arises out of a conference held from 30-31 March 2009 on Mbeki’s Legacy, hosted by the Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, at the instigation of Tawana Kupe, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, which, together with the School of Social Sciences, joined our department in funding the event. Mbeki was, by then, ‘history’, deposed from the ANC presidency and the presidency of the Republic. Despite this, the conference was remarkably well attended throughout and received television and radio coverage. Our idea was to organise a conference that was overall critical in tone

– it is the job of academics to be critical – but something other than an

anti-Mbeki polemic. We invited a number of people we hoped would defend the Mbeki record, but in the end only Siphamandla Zondi and Chris Landsberg were there to champion the ex-president (both on foreign policy issues), and of these only Landsberg agreed to contribute to the book. We also – in the spirit of the times – sought a conference that was balanced in terms of race and gender. While three black Africans of a larger number invited agreed to address the conference, none chose

to contribute to the book (though others of colour have done so). Of the three women speakers, only one agreed to participate in the book. On all these counts, therefore, there is nothing ‘balanced’ about this collection, or even (given the presence of Landsberg’s fulsome defence of Mbeki amid otherwise much more critical chapters) anything particularly coherent about it; it is a product simply of the way things turned out – of who agreed to present at the conference and who agreed to contribute to the book of the conference. With Wits University Press,



the Department of Political Studies decided nevertheless to press ahead with a book, encouraged by indications of prospective reader interest. The contributors are all connected to the academic world, and some were also prominent public commentators on the Mbeki era or activists in civil society organisations during his tenure. This chapter offers a critical introduction to the collection, locating its contributions within a larger anatomy of Mbeki and his legacy. It is occasionally argumentative, and not all contributors will agree with all the arguments made in it; I hope they will extend their forbearance, especially where I quibble with positions they have adopted. Its length and wide (perhaps too wide) range has mainly to do with the need to cover Mbeki-related ground that our more specialised chapter contri- butors could not. This sweep comes at a price: not every point can be substantiated as thoroughly as would be possible in a more specialised piece. I do, though, provide sources for factual claims that are not common cause and flag – by using appropriately qualified language – propositions that are disputable or speculative.

MBEKI: The man, his politics, his world-view

Biographical essentials

Thabo Mbeki was born in 1942 in the Eastern Cape, where he spent his childhood. His father, Govan, became a celebrated ANC and Communist activist, political prisoner and founder of the ANC’s armed wing. Mbeki spent six years in domestic ANC-linked youth politics before heading abroad, on ANC instructions, in 1962. In 1966 Mbeki received a Master of Economics degree from the University of Sussex. Heavily involved in ANC work in several countries during his period of exile, he became political secretary to ANC President Oliver Tambo in 1978, director of the ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity in 1984 and head of the ANC’s international department in



1989. In the later 1980s and early 1990s Mbeki figured prominently in the negotiations that led to the democratic constitutional settlement of 1994. In 1993 he was elected chairman of the ANC and in 1994 first deputy president of the Republic of South Africa. The ANC’s Mafikeng Congress of December 1997 saw Mbeki elected as ANC president. In June 1999, following the ANC’s second election victory, he assumed office as president of South Africa. He held the ANC presidency until his ouster at the party’s conference held in Polokwane, in Limpopo Povince in December 2007 1 and the presidency of the Republic until his resignation in September 2008. Since he was long considered an ANC heir apparent by virtue of being the son of Govan Mbeki and close associate of Oliver Tambo, both ‘ANC royalty’, Mbeki’s ascendancy seemed inevitable to many. Even so, he was not universally popular in the movement. He incurred suspicion in its armed wing (Gevisser 2007: 293-7), fell out with Communist stalwarts Joe Slovo and Chris Hani and found himself, in the 1990s, challenged for pre-eminence by, among others, former trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa. Adroit in sidelining a string of potential rivals he finally fell prey, politically, to the coalition that gathered around one- time Mbeki man and former ANC intelligence chief Jacob Zuma. Mbeki’s ascendancy was in keeping with the prominent role in the ANC of activists from the Eastern Cape, the area in which Bantu-speakers first collided with white settlers in the 18th century – though the Mbekis themselves were descended (on the paternal side) from the Mfengu, 19th- century refugees from Natal dispersed by intra-African wars. The ‘Fingo’ stood out as Christianised and modernising outsiders amongst the Xhosa and, indeed, were initially perceived as collaborators with the British; but this group duly experienced the bitter taste of white power, in the Mbeki family’s case in the form of downward social mobility from an earlier near-gentry status. Mbeki was (quietly) accused of packing his Cabinet and director-general posts with Xhosas (Johnson 2009: 557).



Mbeki’s rise to the presidency also signalled the ascendancy of the exiles, who, in the 1990s, competed for influence with the Robben Islanders and the ‘inziles’ – veterans of the United Democratic Front, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other domestic formations active inside South Africa during the uprisings of the 1980s. Zuma continues the dominance of the exiles, though in ethnic terms (which matter in South Africa) his rule marks a passing of the presidential baton to the Zulus, historically rivals of the Xhosa for dominance in the ANC.


For some of his critics and admirers alike, Mbeki was the quintessential post-ideological figure: a man who wanted, above all, to get things done, even if that meant deserting his movement’s socialist dogmas or his predecessor’s feel-good rainbowism. This characterisation does not seem quite right. Mbeki did jettison socialist goals (perhaps as early as 1979) 2 and, indeed, for some on the left he was an ideologue of a different kind: a ‘neo-liberal’ one, committed with a convert’s zeal to

a limited state, free trade and monetary orthodoxy (‘Call me a

Thatcherite!’, he invited an audience in 1996). This does not seem quite

right either. It is difficult to square with Mbeki’s bemoaning of selfish materialism, his questioning of globalisation after the Asian financial crash (Gevisser 2007: 740-1, 779-80) and his post-1998 affirmation

of the ‘developmental state’.

Mbeki was (is) a pragmatic ideologue. His pre-1994 role as an ANC diplomat and publicist demanded that he maintain connections with parties as diverse as Black Consciousness, Swedish social democrats, American liberals and, later, the white South African establishment. Attuned to the balance of forces, Mbeki could read the meaning of white military power and Soviet decline. He eschewed the romantic maximalism of guerilla comrades like Chris Hani. But his pragmatism



served an ideological world-view, one that influenced both his goals and methods. That world-view changed in pattern and hue over time, but it retained some important shaping elements. Thus Marxism-Leninism remained visible, even as the socialism ceased to be. Mbeki was brought up in a communist family; an SACP member from early 1961 or 1962 until 1990 (Gevisser 2007: 148), he was elected to its Central Committee in 1970, received ideological and military training in Moscow in 1969-71 and, for a while, was groomed as a future SACP leader. ‘M-L’ was visible most obviously in Mbeki’s vanguardist approach to politics and governance, which are considered in more detail below. It was much less evident in his market-friendly economics. Ironically, though, Marxism-Leninism helped Mbeki to justify his accommodation of capitalist globalisation and his commit- ment to fostering a black ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’ (Gevisser 2007: 462-4; Johnson 2009: 79). The communist two-stage theory of revolution explained the priority of ‘national democracy’ over socialism and, correspondingly, why the ANC should remain a nationalist rather than become a socialist organisation. 3 ‘Scientific’ Marxism stressed too, with Mbeki, the importance of objectively analysing the balance of class forces in determining what was possible at a given conjuncture; Lenin, in particular, offered Mbeki a vocabulary for attacking ultra-leftism (an ‘infantile disorder’, according to Lenin). Here was Marxism- Leninism as per the Lenin School, but emptied of its socialist content. Mbeki’s other ideological strand is radical anti-colonial nationalism. In his case this manifested itself in pan-Africanism and, more generally, in a racialised Third-Worldism. Mbeki insistently attributed Africa’s failings to European colonialism, offered solidarity to leaders in the South under attack from the West and tried to launch an Africa-wide ‘Renaissance’. For some leftist critics (e.g., Patrick Bond [2004]) Mbeki’s pan-African, Third-Worldist and anti-imperialist positioning was simply his way of ‘talking left’ while ‘walking right’, especially



economically. Certainly, Mbeki showed little interest in the statist socialism and pre-capitalist communalism punted by earlier gener- ations of leftist African nationalists. But few who have perused Mbeki’s online screeds, or who have tried to make sense of his actions and

silences, can doubt that he held his anti-colonialist stance with a sincere bitterness. It is a merit of Landsberg’s exegesis that he takes Mbeki’s foreign-policy idealism seriously. Whatever one thinks of Landsberg’s defence of Mbeki’s foreign policy, it proceeds from a correct premise, that Mbeki possessed and acted on a world-view, one that joined realism to a politics of Third-Worldism and racial redress. While Vale


more (properly, in my view) critical of Mbeki-era foreign policy, he


arguably too quick to reduce it to neo-liberal and realist calculations.

If human rights came second in Mbeki’s foreign policy this was probably due as much to the former president’s ‘idealistic’ notions of racial and South-South solidarity as it was to calculations of South Africa’s interests, economically conceived or otherwise. The prominence of race in Mbeki’s world-view requires special

attention. The puzzle, for many observers, lay in his apparent metamor- phosis from affable Anglophile into prickly racial nationalist. Visible as

a significant concern already during his deputy-presidency, race became

a central motif of Mbeki’s presidency. In various ways and forums he

came to champion a world-view according to which whites at home and in the North were now, as ever, determined to exploit and degrade Africans – to impoverish them; use them as fodder in medical experi- ments; stereotype them as violent, venal and lustful; impose upon them heartless Western values and to prove they were incapable of self-govern- ment. Africans appeared in his account as a warm and communal people, wronged by Western evildoers, collectively morally pristine prior to their corruption by white violence and materialism, and still very much victims. Why this apparent racial turn? It is proper to acknowledge one likely stimulant to it: the fact that, years after 1994, whites in South



Africa remain disproportionately economically powerful, materially

privileged and – in a good many cases – unreconciled to black rule. There is also the fact that, for all its post-1950 non-racialism, the ANC never abandoned its commitment to the liberation of ‘blacks in general and Africans in particular’. But there appears to be more at work than these facts in Mbeki’s own transmogrification into racial nationalist. It now seems likely that he was never the straightforwardly westernised non-racialist some whites imagined they saw in the 1980s. Mbeki’s pre-1994 diplomatic role may have required him to overplay his Western side even as, inwardly, he felt a powerful urge to ‘reclaim his Africanness’ (Gevisser 2007: 574-5). The split in Mbeki’s persona between cosmopolitanism and return- to-the-source yearning may originate, or so Gevisser’s biography implies,

in the ambiguities of the educated and relatively well-off Mbeki family’s

insider-outsider status amongst the ‘red’ Xhosa (2007: 49-52). During

his 1960s British exile Mbeki engaged appreciatively with the ideas of

W E B du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Aimé Césaire, Leopold Senghor, Frantz

Fanon and Malcolm X and established links with Black Consciousness activists. Later he fell out spectacularly with his one-time mentor, the white revolutionary Joe Slovo (Gevisser 2007: 220, 314-27, 384-5; 459-

70). Mbeki forged a tacit alliance with Africanists during his 1990s rivalry with the non-racial left and inziles and resented white support for Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership ambitions (Gumede 2005: 39; Gevisser 2007: 604-10, 639-47). As President, Mbeki was eager to escape the shadow of the iconic Mandela, whom he privately accused

of not doing enough to help blacks (Gumede 2005: 53-7; Gevisser 2007:

707-12). He found in white racism a reassuring explanation for phenomena he found disconcerting, notably the medical-scientific claim that Africans were victims of a lethal disease sexually transmitted within their ranks and the criticism to which he was subjected over his policies

on AIDS, Zimbabwe and the arms deal. To these factors reinforcing his



race consciousness must be added his alliance with elements of a rising black middle class eager to displace class-struggle rhetoric with a more congenial rhetoric of racial competition.

Governing style

Mbeki was the elected leader of a democratic state, one that has (at least until the advent of recently proposed media restrictions) been amongst the more plausible African exemplars of Huntington’s ‘third wave of Democratisation’ (Huntington 1991). But to his many critics Deputy President, later President Mbeki appeared to be an authoritarian figure trapped (comfortably housed, some leftists might contend) in a liberal- democratic (or ‘bourgeois’) institutional shell. He personified in these critics’ eyes a politics of centralisation, paranoia, aversion to criticism and indifference to the pain of his fellow citizens. Mbeki, from 1994, led a centralising trend evident in, among other moves, the high-handed imposition of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) economic strategy in 1996, the top-down deployment of cadres to ANC- controlled provinces and municipalities from 1997 and the creation of a super presidency from 1999. His authoritarianism found expression in broadsides against real or imagined critics, delivered at Tripartite Alliance organisation conferences or in his online column, and directed sometimes at individual citizens; and also in plotting, some of it involving the state security apparatus, to sideline perceived rivals. Mbeki talked and, more occasionally, acted in ways that seemed threatening to many in the media, judiciary, opposition parties and organised civil society. Part of the explanation for Mbeki’s undemocratic ways surely lies in his ideological lineage. Marxism-Leninism and radical nationalism pulled him, and the ANC, towards authoritarianism. The model proffered by earlier Marxist-led anti-colonial movements legitimated a conception of the ANC as the embodiment of a revolutionary mission and people. Both ideologies encouraged a distrust of political pluralism, formal democracy



and the idea of a neutral or non-partisan state, favouring, in its stead, a unitary and purposive conception of the state, one that looked to inclusive mass mobilisation behind a shared historical task rather than to open- ended contestation amongst competing societal projects. Leninism and left-inflected nationalism jointly supplied a vocabulary for tarring critics (black, white, left, right) as ‘reactionaries’, ‘counter- revolutionaries’ and ‘agents’. (We catch an early glimpse of Mbeki’s view of dissent in his enthusiastic endorsement of the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 [Gevisser 2007: 184, 260].) The impress of Leninism can be seen also in Mbeki’s preference for vanguardism over populism (‘better fewer but better!’, he admonished his hostile audience at Polokwane, in Lenin’s own words) and in his commitment to democratic-centralist party organisation. Lenin’s ruthless strategic realism could only have encouraged Mbeki’s own personality-rooted preoccupations with power and conspiracy. Mbeki never repudiated the liberal- and social-democratic Constitution negotiated in the early and middle 1990s, but his Leninism and radical nationalism surely help to explain the kind of cavalier attitude to constitutionalism that the Calland and Heywood chapters show – in detail – to characterise the former president’s tenure. How much this matters depends, in part, on where one is coming from. Hudson’s theoretical contribution raises provocative questions about the appropriateness of a standard liberal yardstick for measuring Mbeki’s record. Hudson’s hope is invested in the possibility of more radically transformative metrics. For this editor at least, the clear implication of Duncan’s and Heywood’s contributions is that repressive (or illiberal) aspects of the Mbeki government were as likely to be directed at radically transformative critics of ANC rule as they were at reactionary ones. Liberal-democratic values and institutions protect progressive as well as conservative forces. Hudson complains that some socialists who insist, still, on the possibility of alternative economic



systems proceed as though there is no alternative to liberal democracy as a political system. An alternative take is that liberal democracy is precisely the name of the political system that permits, at least in prin- ciple, a public choice between rival economic programmes. These choices are subject, under liberal democracy, to constitutional checks and to the ever-present possibility of reversal by future publics, elec- torally reconvened. But how else would Hudson have it? Nor need the choices favour self-interested individualism or confound trans- formative goals, as Hudson implies; South Africa’s liberal-democratic Constitution permits a considerable leeway for social-democratic experimentation; indeed it mandates some. One oft-heard justification of Mbeki-style centralisation was that it was necessary to the rational governance of a sometimes chaotic polity and society (see, e.g., Gevisser 2007: 716). Centralised executive leader- ship is viewed by such defenders as a precondition for ‘delivery’ in the face of incompetent or corrupt lower tiers of state, conflicting juris- dictions and bureaucratic resistance. This line of argument, in turn, elicits the claim, reiterated in this volume by Friedman, that Mbeki’s ANC imposed a technocracy on South Africa. Friedman intriguingly links its technocratic style to the new elite’s racial insecurities; for him, it issued from a collective anxiety to prove to whites that blacks were capable of ‘good governance’. This attempt to appease racist whites was an error, according to Friedman, committing the ANC to a path of high-handed managerialism, suppression of legitimate ideological debate and the imposition of elitist norms of excellence and order. There was clearly a technocratic aspect to, say, the Mbeki-era (1994-2008, that is) encourage- ment of new public management in state bureaucracies, the delegation of fiscal and monetary decision-making respectively to the Treasury and Reserve Bank, the attempt to replicate Japan’s MITI within the presidency and the aspiration to create ‘world-class cities’. Clearly, too, Mbeki was determined to prove to the world that South Africa was not



going to repeat the mistakes of Africa, mistakes that he perceived to include economic populism and state mismanagement. Still, there are grounds to quibble with the technocracy thesis in its unalloyed form, with its implication of commitment to instrumental rationality, rule by experts and above-the-fray objectivity. It under- estimates, surely, the crosscutting imperatives of race-based recruitment, ANC partisanship and personal loyalty running through the rule of Mbeki and his subordinates. These are not meritocratic imperatives. And if ANC rule under Mbeki was technocratic, then it arguably failed, even on its own terms – for Mbeki presided over the deterioration of hospital and educational services, energy provision, infrastructure and other goods that technocrats might be supposed to be good at delivering. Friedman’s ready solution to this latter puzzle is to argue that the ANC set itself up for failure: instead of drawing on its strengths as a popular movement (it would be useful to have these detailed), it embarked on an elitist and technocratic course that it lacked the capacity to see through. My own inclination is to think of Mbeki-ism as torn between technocratic and nationalist dogmas, but Friedman certainly posits a powerful alternative to the mainstream thesis that the ANC suffered from too little, rather than too much, concern with technical competence. On the issue of state (in)capacity, more later.

Conception of the relationship between knowledge and power

Mbeki was commonly charged with being a ‘denialist’, and this charge touches on an aspect of Mbeki-ism that receives insufficient attention:

his peculiar conception of the relationship between knowledge, discourse and power. Denial can mean a number of things: a refusal to admit that something is so; a reluctance to confront or address an acknowledged reality; a cognitive subordination of ‘is’ to ‘ought’ (as in, ‘this cannot be true because it ought not to be’); a belief that reality



can be altered by assertion, or by damning those bearing bad news. All of these meanings found expression, I would argue, in Mbeki’s denialism. Medical orthodoxy on AIDS ought not to have been true – because in Mbeki’s reading it confirmed stereotypes and blamed victims – therefore could not be. If the orthodoxy could not be true, its bearers must be malicious: in this case, agents of a colonialist discourse of medical-scientific domination. If the orthodoxy serves colonialist domination, it is proper – indeed, a revolutionary require- ment – to counter it, whether through passive-aggressive silence, textual resistance (as in online polemics) or by diverting the resources of state to dealing with other social maladies that can be more plausibly attributed to Western colonialism and the poverty it spawned. Similar thought patterns are detectable in Mbeki’s approaches to topics like crime, Zimbabwe and xenophobia. South Africans (and Zimbabweans) paid a terrible price for this epistemology. The most egregious was in lives, but a belief that shooting messengers alters reality also poses a direct threat to media freedom. This threat seemed to materialise in 2000, when the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) launched an inquiry into media racism, one that branded as racist (and presumably therefore as untrue) all criticisms of the ANC government that stood to reinforce racial stereotypes. That inquiry also bore testimony to the commission’s belief in the occult power of the textual and sub-textual,

a power that it presumed to shape and supersede the objective facts of

any given matter. Critiques of the ANC needed to be addressed, not by changing the external reality referred to by media critics – not, that

is to say, by acting to make government less corrupt, greedy or incom-

petent – but by ‘proving’ the subliminally racist nature of critical texts (Glaser 2000). The inquiry was led by then SAHRC chairperson

Barney Pityana and a white researcher, but it conveyed in every detail the spirit of Mbeki-ism. 4



It is not clear why Mbeki adopted this way of thinking, but plausible candidates include his intellectual pride and his massive personal investment in his ideas. Bereft of a family or private hinterland, Mbeki ‘sublimate[d] all emotions, all relationships, all desires, into the struggle for liberation’ (Gevisser 2007: xxix). The wrongness of his revolutionary ideas, one may surmise, stood to annihilate him. And the principal idea in which he was invested was, again according to Gevisser (2007: xxxii, 322-26), the idea that black people should determine their own lives and identity. Blacks should escape the gaze of the West. They should, with Fanon and Steve Biko, judge themselves by their own lights. It is not many steps from here to the conviction that Africans, or at any rate those who had attained psychological self-emancipation, should redefine reality on their own terms. Mbeki appeared to view this task of black self-definition, and reality redefinition, as a crucial aspect of his role as philosopher-king of South Africa’s transition. Certain fashionable ideas, mostly drawn from the discursive universe of post-socialist cultural radicalism – anti- scientism, Foucauldian preoccupation with the knowledge/power nexus, Afrocentrism, post-colonialist theory – probably helped to shape an intellectual climate in which Mbeki could believe the things he did with authority and confidence. The trendiness of such ideas guaranteed him at least a small cult following (see, e.g., Ronald Suresh Roberts, Anthony Brink, Christine Qunta).


How one rates Mbeki overall is, in this as in many matters, inseparable from one’s values and affiliations. Mbeki won praise in two kinds of circles. In the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s, he elicited widespread admiration amongst representatives of business and white society for the kind of persona he projected to them, sincerely or otherwise: the persona



of a conciliatory veteran, economic pragmatist and political moderniser in the mould of, say, Tony Blair. This line of praise for Mbeki never entirely died out; business economists continued to the end of his tenure to hail Mbeki’s economic management, crediting his government’s – and in particular, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s – business-friendliness for the boom of 2004-7. Post-2005 whites generally took Mbeki’s side in the face-off with what they perceived as a less educated, more corrupt Jacob Zuma. By the end, though, most white commentators had joined others in excoriating Mbeki’s failings. Whites had never loved Mbeki in the way many did Mandela, and such love as there was dwindled as his tenure progressed. It was precisely Mbeki’s race obsessions that won him his other, much more affectionate constituency: racially-nationalistic middle- class blacks. President Mbeki understood his mission as one of accelerated transformation, by which he and his supporters meant the redress of racial inequality. Mbeki gathered around himself Black Consciousness and Africanist ideologues, most notably his legal adviser, Mojanku Gumbi, and semi-official hagiographer Ronald Suresh Roberts. The Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo)’s president sat in his Cabinet as science and technology minister. Black professionals organised in bodies like the Black Management Forum and Black Lawyers’ Association joined him in pushing for black economic empowerment (BEE) and affirmative action. For sure, a handful of nationalist radicals (like Andile Mngxitama) dismissed Mbeki for doing too little to dislodge white privilege and economic power; in doing this they held the torch for the leftist Black Consciousness thinking that Azapo and the Pan Africanist Congress largely abandoned. One now-notorious Africanist faction, Julius Malema’s ANC Youth League (ANCYL), defected to Zuma. Their move to Zuma requires fuller explanation (more about it below). But Africanism, though hardly a dissident position in Zuma’s ANC, no



longer has its driver at the top. Many key black-nationalist figures saw their careers eclipsed with that of Mbeki. Mbeki’s most persistent ideological critics came from the Left, both inside the ruling Tripartite Alliance – within which the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) came to feel increasingly marginalised – and from the civil-society and far left beyond. All these critics held Mbeki responsible for what they perceived, with some justification, to be a decisive shift to the right on economic policy in 1996. The Left coupled the critique of Mbeki-ite neo-liberalism with the charge that Mbeki imposed this policy change by fiat. Opposition to neo-liberalism spawned a whole array of leftist social movement organisations from the end of the 1990s, one that dovetailed with the international anti-capitalist or ‘anti-globalisation’ movement. The most successful of the left-activist social movement organisations, the Treat- ment Action Campaign, had, of course, its own preoccupation: Mbeki’s denial of life-saving treatment to millions of HIV/AIDS sufferers. There also crystallised a strand of robust liberal criticism of Mbeki and his government. The white-led Democratic Alliance (DA) formed one centre for this critique; media commentators, many of them black, the other. These institutions and actors formed a kind of liberal ‘public opinion’ that was determined to subject the government to a level of scrutiny – and, in the case of the DA, to a Westminster-style adversarial opposition – that many in the ANC and government appeared to consider culturally disrespectful and racially insensitive. Representing a spectrum that stretched from rightwing liberal organisations like the Helen Suzman Foundation through to liberal- left NGOs like the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa), the bearers of liberal public opinion lambasted the Mbeki government for, among other sins, its ‘reracialisation’ of South Africa, cronyism and incipient authoritarianism. Though Mbeki more or less observed liberal-democratic constitutional ground rules, he came, for many of



them, to personify the ANC’s ‘awkward embrace’ 5 of liberalism. Then again, the socially conservative and populist Zuma personifies it more unambiguously – which is why liberals did not join the Tripartite Alliance Left in welcoming Zuma as Mbeki’s successor. (Many in the independent Left were sceptical about Zuma too, it should be added.) Can one divine from these distinctive lines of critique a unified theory of Mbeki’s rule? It is notable that there was a convergence between liberal and leftist critics on at least two points: that Mbeki practised a democracy-threatening style of government and that his politics of delivery did too little to help ordinary citizens. They also agreed in their criticism of Mbeki’s policies on AIDS and Zimbabwe. This convergence may have fuelled Mbeki’s perception of an unholy alliance against him, stretching from white liberals to black trade unionists – the sort of alliance that, Mbeki may have noticed, challenged Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The convergence also helps to explain why Mbeki was so isolated in the end, especially when Left and liberal criticism was echoed from within the ANC by a coalition of KwaZulu-Natal ethnoregionalists, Youth Leaguers and a parade of ‘walking wounded’ – those who had been summarily shunted aside by the president. The fact that diverse factions concurred in key criticisms of Mbeki does not itself validate their complaints; each had its own axe to grind. The fact that Mbeki left quite so many feeling shut out nevertheless seems telling, at least about Mbeki’s high-handedness. 6

THE MBEKI RECORD: A critical overview

The legacy of leaders lies not only in the quality of their innovation but also in the quality of their custodianship. Mbeki was custodian of at least two widely valued legacies: that of the Freedom Charter of 1955, with its ringing commitment to non-racial and multiracial unity, popular democracy and mass upliftment; and the 1996 Constitution, announcing



the new country’s fealty to an extended array of rights. These included ‘blue rights’ (equality before the law, freedoms of expression and association, political pluralism, lifestyle freedom, government by consent), ‘red rights’ (to housing, education, health, substantive equality and participatory democracy) and what might be termed rainbow rights (to group recognition and equality). What sort of a custodian of these legacies was Mbeki? I assess this briefly under three headings:

democracy, nation building and socio-economic advance of the poor. Curiously enough, considering Mbeki’s authoritarian instincts and actions, he left the democratic legacy relatively intact. The ‘new’ South Africa started its life as a liberal democracy based on multiparty competition, free elections, political pluralism and an autonomous civil society; and it is a polity and society of this sort that Mbeki handed on. Many organisations outside the state felt threatened by Mbeki’s verbal attacks, but they never experienced outright repression. Even so, Mbeki was no friend of democratic pluralism. His authori- tarianism was felt most directly within the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance. This mattered in a country where the ruling party swallows up so much political space. Thus the ruling party controlled both the National Assembly and the executive it was supposed to oversee, enabling Mbeki effectively to neuter Parliament (Gumede 2005: 140-1). The ANC national leadership exploited its electoral dominance nationally, in the provinces and locally to exert a centralised control of all levels of the state through its top-down deployment strategy. This was part of a longer-term programme, evidence suggests, for exercising comprehensive hegemony over the state and society (Chipkin 2008:

134; Johnson 2009: 305-318). It also placed enormous patronage in Mbeki’s hands. Constitutionally-prescribed ‘cooperative governance’ between provincial and central government, legislative provision for ‘floor crossing’ by parliamentarians (now abolished) and an electoral system based on competition between closed party lists played into the



hands of ANC political centralisers. As the ANC absorbed the state, the state was, in turn, drawn into ruling party squabbles and plots. As Calland and Oxtoby show, police, intelligence and legal agencies became aligned with particular ANC factions, engaging in selective prosecutions, surveillance, leaks and forgery to damage members of rival factions. The single most frightening episode in the short history of post-1994 South African democracy occurred when, in 2001, Mbeki falsely claimed, on the basis of specious intelligence, that there was a plot by a range of prominent ANC figures to overthrow his govern- ment. Mbeki was forced to back off, as he was on other occasions. If Mbeki did not lethally damage South African democracy, there is little doubt that his leadership endangered it and that it bequeathed democracy-endangering precedents to succeeding governments. Did the Mbeki-era state respect citizens’ political civil rights? Political violence fell away dramatically after the 1994 elections, but remains a feature of local-level politics, as do occasional assassinations and attempted assassinations, notably of corruption whistleblowers (Mpumalanga is an example). As Duncan valuably documents, the state’s tolerance of mass protest has proven thin; how much Mbeki had personally to do with this intolerance is unclear, but ANC- controlled or ANC-chosen municipal and police officials are certainly culpable, and they operate in a climate Mbeki fostered. Hundreds of criminal suspects and prisoners die every year at the hands of the police, who also harass undocumented immigrants and extort bribes from the general public. State violence reacts to, feeds off and (if Duncan is right) sometimes fuels the violence of society itself, the latter manifested in a murder rate about ten times higher than that of the United States, killing of strike- breakers, service-delivery riots, xenophobic pogroms, even lethal driving. The democratic limitations of the state are thus matched by those of an uncivil society. If I have a quibble with Duncan it is that she does not



acknowledge the incivility of the latter, the nature and extent of which has never been fully explained and which, too, violates human rights. Nation-building arguably suffered more immediate injury under Mbeki than did democracy. Much, of course, turns on how nation-buil- ding is understood (leave aside whether it is a good idea in a globalised world and a xenophobic country). Is it about forging a colour-blind polity and society? A multicultural one, celebrating unity in diversity? Or is it about cementing national unity around a majoritarian culture? Mbeki probably understood himself to be forging a single nation anchored in an African identity. The signifier ‘African’ is, itself, ambi- valent. In his famous ‘I am an African’ speech, celebrated in this collection by Calland and Oxtoby, Mbeki embraced a racially syncretic version of its meaning; but even in that rendition the term African was counterposed to European and Western. Other Africanists, like Malegapuru Makgoba and Malema (and Peter Mokaba in the 1990s), vested African with a more explicitly racial meaning, taking it to refer either to a racially defined people or to their ways. At least in this racialised variant nation- building depends less on whites accepting a non-racial civic-national identity, or celebrating their European heritage as part of a multicultural mix, than on their coming to terms with the fact that this is a black- African continent – and that black Africans are now in charge. Whites, in this version, can conceivably become African themselves, but only by embracing black-African culture. Coloureds and Indians find themselves in a still more complicated place in the nation-building project. They are black according to a convention in anti-apartheid politics going back to the 1970s and according to employment equity and BEE legislation, but for many nativists it is Africanness that counts and African means specifically Bantu-speaking African. In the racial-Africanist scheme these mino- rities, just like whites, are called upon to embrace the political and cultural ascendancy of Africans defined in this narrower way.



But however the nation is conceived – whether as non-racial,

multicultural or African – one crucial measure of the success of nation- building must be its capacity to bring racial minorities into a shared sense of nationhood. If that is the operative criterion Mbeki must be judged to have been much less successful than his predecessor. Mandela’s combination of non-racialism and ‘rainbow’ multicultural- ism made way, under Mbeki, for an assertive black, sometimes African racial nationalism that alienated not only whites but also many coloureds and Indians. The new ruling elite’s constant berating of sporting codes and businesses for being insufficiently ‘transformed’; the insistence on race-based recruitment, promotion and procurement; rows over name changes and the Afrikaans language, all of these helped to maintain race relations in a permanent state of bickering. Whether an assertive racial nationalism was anyway justified – say, in the name of equality – constitutes a separate matter for debate, but the egalitarian case for it seems hardly clear cut given that BEE and even affirmative action have benefited only a small minority of blacks. Non- racial socialists and social democrats persist in their preference for class-based redistribution.

If McKaiser is right, Mbeki-ite nation-building need not have turned

out the way it did. He claims to have identified an earlier Mbeki – by which he means an earlier post-1994 Mbeki – who skilfully synthesised a necessary politics of racial redress with an equally necessary project

of cross-racial nation-building. McKaiser’s early Mbeki thus performed the trick that Mandela did not. More tragic is it, therefore, McKaiser argues, that the ‘later’ Mbeki threw away this advantage in the pursuit

of an increasingly obsessive racial essentialism. It’s an interesting idea, though one whose verification will require still closer textual parsing of the former president’s speeches and online output.

A pessimist might suspect that racial tension is inherent in the South

African condition, whether Mbeki is in charge or not (and irrespective



of which Mbeki is in charge). The post-liberation presence of a large

white population, disproportionately affluent and skilled, may serve as

a permanent source of irritation to an aspirant black African middle

class competing for the same business and professional places. The black working class and poor do not compete with whites in the same way (white-collar workers apart) and, some survey evidence suggests, are accordingly less committed to affirmative action (Johnson 2009:

114-16). They are more likely to compete amongst each other – for example, Africans with coloureds for houses and jobs in the Western Cape. And they compete collectively, primarily over work and trading opportunities, with the migrants who have entered the country in considerable numbers from elsewhere in Africa since about 1990. What the black poor want, empirical and anecdotal evidence implies (HSRC 2008; Mkhwanazi 2008), is affirmative action, not for blacks but for South Africans. One might be tempted to say that they are thereby engaging in a form of inclusive South African nation-building, one that, however, demonstrates the other – darker – side of national unity and identity; one would be tempted to say this, were it not for the fact that the xenophobia seems to construct some black South Africans (Xhosa, Sotho-Tswana, and especially Zulu) as more authentically national than others (Venda, Pedi, Shangaan, Swazi). While xenophobic attitudes straddle racial and class lines, its violent expression in shack settlements and around hostels caught many in the black elite off guard, and

occasioned one of the starkest episodes of Mbeki denialism. Finally (and not unrelated), there is the question of Mbeki’s success or otherwise in transforming the life-circumstances of the poor. Though

no socialist, Mbeki was committed to inter-racial redress and to lifting the poorest South Africans out of poverty. ANC rule has certainly contributed in practice to interracial redress, evident in the burgeoning black middle class. Its record in terms of absolute and relative poverty

is contested amongst academics. The balance of evidence suggests a



persistence of poverty and inequality in the second half of the 1990s, with improved access to services for the poorest offset by rising unemployment (see, e.g., Seekings & Nattrass 2006: 300-375). From the early 2000s the spreading net of social grants and, later, an economic boom began to ameliorate absolute income poverty and, perhaps, also inequality (see, e.g., Everatt 2009). But at the end of the Mbeki era South Africa remained one of the most unequal countries in the world; one embarrassed by world-beating unemployment, declining life expectancy and rising infant mortality. The ANC in power undoubtedly enhanced the access of the poor to subsidised housing, electricity for lighting, potable water, clinics and grants, but it could also be punitive to the poor, as witness the willingness of ANC-run local authorities to cut off urban householders’ access to water and electricity for non-payment. Many of the social services provided for the poor suffered from low-quality output, shoddy maintenance and fraud. The amelioration of poverty and inequality is not, to be fair, straight- forwardly in the gift of governments of the day. The ANC in power had to act to ameliorate poverty and unequal life-chances in the context of inherited economic constraints and the external shock of the HIV pandemic. In the case of HIV the Mbeki government made matters worse for itself: the withholding of ARVs aggravated unnecessarily the toll of AIDS on mortality, productivity and household income. There was never an ‘ARV’ for managing the impact of inherited economic weaknesses. South Africa’s middle-income economy may look rich in African terms, but it has never regained the high growth path it was on between the mid-1930s and the mid-1970s. It has consequently fallen behind many comparable or even initially poorer economies. However ‘competent’ a manager in orthodox macro-economic terms, the ANC in power has yet to surmount inherited economic challenges. These are various. Economic growth bumps against a balance of pay- ments constraint, the net result of dependence on imported capital



goods, the middle class’s debt-fuelled appetite for imported luxuries and an internationally uncompetitive manufacturing sector. The economy relies on primary product exports to earn foreign exchange and on foreign investment to offset low domestic savings – dependencies that leave it vulnerable to declining commodity prices, flights of ‘hot’ money and currency fluctuation. Despite a long-accumulating surplus of unskilled labour, there is a bias towards capital intensity in production that is a legacy of apartheid-induced urban labour shortages, the dominance of large companies and, from the 1980s, relatively high formal sector wages. The apartheid era also bequeathed a legacy of political and industrial unrest as well as a painfully narrow skills base. In its neo-liberal phase (1996-c2000) the ANC government gambled on being able to lift South Africa onto a decisively higher growth path by limiting government spending, privatising or outsourcing state services, withdrawing agricultural subsidies, stabilising the currency through high interest rates and freeing up the movement of goods and capital across South African borders. The hope was that the inevitable export of capital and the competitive shock to textile, auto and farm workers would be more than offset by burgeoning industrial exports and inward investment. The gamble largely failed. Many workers lost their jobs in manu- facturing, mining and farming. Successful deficit containment yielded a downside in new constraints on energy supply and deteriorating infrastructure. Secondary-industrial export opportunities were con- stricted by South Africa’s disadvantageous geographical location, persistent local skill shortages (notwithstanding heavy investment in public education), relatively high manufacturing wages and an often too strong currency. With alternative ‘emerging market’ attractions in Eastern Europe and China, and deterred by strong unions, political uncertainty and crime in South Africa, foreign direct investment failed to pour in as predicted. Instead, South Africa experienced premature



deindustrialisation. Per capita growth remained mediocre. Real gross domestic product per head would only catch up with the 1981 level in 2006 (Johnson 2009: 581). In the early to mid-2000s the ANC government changed tack, at least to a degree. Out went the idea (never vigorously pursued) of large- scale privatisation; in came a commitment to strategically deploying state-owned enterprises. Infrastructure investment was earmarked for acceleration. The Reserve Bank pursued a less punishing interest rate regime. The social grant net was extended to pick up the pieces left by job losses, a new public works programme initiated, the local cost- recovery regime relaxed. An economic boom ensured that the Mbeki government, in its final years, basked in 4-5% annual growth rates. These policies and developments enabled welfare gains, but have yet to provide the needed fix for the country’s structural economic problems. The boom itself was propelled less by structural shifts in economic performance and potential than by debt-based consumption, speculation and rising global commodity prices. And it failed to make a decisive dent in unemployment. While the new strategy depends on an active state, South Africa’s government and public administration remain hobbled by ‘capacity’ problems at national, provincial and local levels. The story of how this came to be so is now reasonably clear (see, e.g., Picard 2005; Southall 2007; Chipkin 2008; Gumede 2009: 55-62; Johnson 2009: 70-1, 102- 114, 172-75, 446-506; Ngoma 2009). Rushed Africanisation post-1994 conspired with a ‘rightsizing’ of the public sector to bleed the state of skills and experience. Departments poached scarce skilled black personnel from each other, causing high turnover, or left jobs vacant for want of suitable black candidates. The state attempted to fill its skills gap by purchasing – at elevated cost – the services of white private consultants. Meanwhile, an upwardly mobilising managerial elite used the state to enrich itself via nepotism, exorbitant salaries and perks, tenders for



cronies and bribe-taking. Well-organised public sector workers blocked efforts to improve service quality, notably in education. The merger of apartheid-era racially segregated bureaucracies imported ethnic, racial and geographical divisions into new unitary administrations and allowed the corruption and incompetence of former Bantustan administrations to colonise new provincial governments. Implementation of New Public Management, designed to create a strategic, pro-active and consumer- responsive managerial class, multiplied the managerial layer while making unrealistic demands upon inexperienced personnel. The result was an unravelling state rather than one fit for developmental purpose. Another requirement of a developmental state under capitalist conditions, cooperative relations between capital, labour and the state, remained elusive. Unions and the left complained about the Treasury’s budget surpluses, the Reserve Bank’s inflation targeting and a surge of Chinese imports, evidence, to them, of ongoing neo-liberalism at policy level. The white-dominated business class, though generally supportive of the state’s fiscal and monetary management, continued to complain about BEE and labour regulations and increasingly despaired of electricity supply. Neither established white capital nor new black capital showed much inclination to play the role of a ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’ committed to socially inclusive domestic growth. The Mbeki government, for its part, continued to approach white capital with an unstable mixture of pragmatic encouragement and race-laced antagonism, echoing the unsettled mindset of a black business elite that saw in white-dominated corporations both a competitor and a source of economic rent.


How much of this record is Mbeki’s, how much the ANC’s? We are back, here, to matters of ‘structure’ and ‘agency’. There can be little doubt that Mbeki imbibed much of what other ANC cadres did, most



of it already alluded to: Marxism-Leninist class analysis, organisational style and rhetoric, conveyed by energetic Communist Party comrades and Soviet sponsors; the understanding of South Africa as undergoing, with the fall of apartheid, a national democratic revolution; the special commitment to black, especially African liberation; and the view of the ANC as the sole authentic liberation force. The ANC stressed discipline and unity, and it constituted Mbeki’s only family. Was not everything Mbeki did simply an effusion of the ANC’s collective mind and body? There are some grounds for this notion, but it is necessary to recognise, too, that the ANC embodied diverse trends and possibilities. Mandela, like Mbeki, was no instinctive democrat. He valued unity of purpose above pluralism, and acted unilaterally at crucial moments. At the same time, though, Mandela crystallised the ANC’s will to nation-building and non-racial inclusiveness. He was marked by a humbleness that allowed him to depart from power after a single term, an implicit rebuke to African ‘big men’ who cling to office at all costs. In Mbeki different ANC traditions surfaced, including that of sectarian Africanism. In governing he domesticated the elitism and centralism endemic to exile politics, displacing the more heterogeneous and community-anchored politics of the ANC’s 1980s internal counterpart, the United Democratic Front. When he tried to extend his de facto power beyond his second presidential term he was acting in defiance of the wishes of the majority in his party. Mbeki thus crystallised quite particular ways of ‘being ANC’. Secondly, Mbeki enjoyed, for a while, an almost unquestioned authority in his party that enabled him not simply to reflect its collective ways but to shape and reshape them in turn. Mbeki the internet-trawling intellectual forged distinctive (for the ANC at least) ideas of his own, and made them his party’s. His views on AIDS, and perhaps Mugabe, fall into this category. There was nothing inevitable about the ANC’s brief career in AIDS dissidence, but few in the party were willing to challenge



it during the peak of Mbeki’s authority between the late 1990s and the

early 2000s (Gumede 2005: 167-8, Johnson 2009: 202-3). 7 Mandela, despite his loyalty to dictators who previously supported and now probably funded the ANC, liked to bask in the approval of the world’s human rights ‘community’ (if we can call it that). Mbeki much preferred African and global-south validation, as he first showed in shaping South Africa’s (pusillanimous) response to Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha (Gumede 2005: 178-9; Gevisser 2007: 703-706; Johnson 2009: 222-8). Again, there was nothing inevitable about the ANC choosing this course rather than building on its potential role as a continental and global moral leader that Mandela, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at his elbow, demonstrated in the euphoric infancy of the ‘rainbow nation’. The ANC had always played to different audiences

and, with the Cold War over, it could have played quite comfortably to the cross-ideological (but primarily left-liberal) global audience for a politics of democracy, human rights and social justice. Guided by Mbeki

it chose not to and, indeed, chose a new kind of pariah-hood. Still, Gevisser, in his chapter, is surely right to cast a sceptical eye upon

Mbeki’s current universal bogeyman role. Contrary to a widespread myth there was no democratic, debate-loving ANC that Mbeki wrecked. The ANC in exile was a hierarchical, secretive organisation, largely controlled by a Communist Party elite. Dissidents and suspected spies in its ranks faced torture or assassination. The much-romanticised UDF harboured intolerant sectarians and revolutionary enforcers who were implicated in sometimes brutal popular violence (see, e.g., Bozzoli 2004; Jeffery 2009). Mbeki’s governance included nothing comparably violent. Nor is there evidence that his departure has heralded a renewed commitment to democratic ways, despite celebration by some of a supposed Polokwane opening. While Mbeki may have brought with him

a particular brand of imperial presidentialism he was, on the democracy issue, no wild outlier in ANC history.



Fairness demands that both Mbeki and the ANC be given some credit for South Africa’s broadly democratic trajectory since 1994. The man and the party both proved ideologically adaptive enough to sign up to constitutional liberal democracy. The ANC’s electoral dominance has enabled it to serve as a source of stability, just as does its cross-ethnic appeal. We cannot be sure that the ANC’s break-up into politically warring factions will be good for democratic peace. It could stir ethnic and ideological passions that find expression in violence. Its electoral successors, should there one day be some, may see their own time in office simply as their turn to ‘eat’, in the established sub-Saharan pattern. Still, we should not mistake the ANC for an instinctively democratic force, or fail to note the paradoxical nature of the argument that one party ought to remain forever in office in order to preserve democracy. Prudential arguments for the ANC’s ascendancy are plausible only because the democratic institutions of South Africa are unproven. Nor should we avert our eyes from the costs of the ANC’s 15 years of rule. Those were arguably made greater than they need have been by the way Mbeki personally steered the ruling party.


How, in 2010, does Thabo Mbeki figure in the South African collective mind? The corporeal person is largely invisible, despite the odd appearance in, for example, negotiations over the future of Sudan. There is evidence in his interview with the journal Thinker (founded by former Mbeki sidekick Essop Pahad) that he is still quietly awaiting his vindication, notably on HIV/AIDS. ANC members aggrieved at Mbeki’s treatment during and after the Polokwane Conference broke away to form the Congress of the People (Cope), which won a respectable 7% of the vote in the 2009 general elections but is now self-destructing. The extent of the former president’s



hand in the founding of Cope is unclear, but it would be straining things to say that the party is carrying Mbeki’s torch – partly because, unlike Mbeki himself, Cope appears to be the genuinely post- ideological article, uninterested in Mbeki’s race politics or Marxist- Leninist analytic frame. There are Cope members who loudly celebrate Mbeki, but their affinity with him seems, on the face of it, personal or ethnoregional rather than ideological. Mbeki torchbearers are certainly scarce inside the ANC. Factional conflicts underway in the party are pitting against each other not Zuma and Mbeki supporters (many of the latter have anyway been purged, left voluntarily or joined the Polokwane victors) but different elements of the Zuma coalition. Ironically, the contender in these battles that seems most Mbeki-ite is the ANC Youth League, an organisation that played a significant role in Mbeki’s downfall. For sure, the ANCYL is thoroughly unlike Mbeki in its predilection for policy adventurism and rabble-rousing. But it does seem to share, albeit to propagate in more straightforwardly Africanist form, his racial nationalism. It may be no coincidence that Malema has come out strongly against the prosecution of Mbeki for his policy on HIV/AIDS, and generally against the prosecution of African leaders for gross human rights violations – a very Mbeki-ite position. Unsurprisingly, the ANCYL is also more pro-Mugabe than the Zuma-supporting left. We can summarise Mbeki’s place in the current South African imagination – and in current South African politics – in terms of four processes: erasure, diversion, inversion and continuity. Mbeki has been erased insofar as he talks little and is remarkably little talked about. Drained of power and direct influence, he has been partly expunged from the ANC’s own account of its recent history. 8 Mbeki also serves as a diversion: as the scapegoat depicted in Gevisser’s chapter. Anything wrong in the current state of South Africa can be attributed by ANC leaders to Mbeki’s failings. Mbeki is (as



Gevisser puts it) the ‘lightning rod’ of the bad past, freeing the ANC to start afresh. Third, and again related, Mbeki appears now, as it were, in the negative: in style at least, the new government is setting out to be everything that Mbeki was not, including being honest about South Africa’s problems, accounting for itself to the ANC leadership and seeking to unite South Africans across racial and ideological lines. This is Mbeki as the inverse of the present. Finally, and in partial contradiction of the above, there is continuity with the Mbeki era: continuity not only on the ground, as measurable in the absence of radical policy breaks, but continuity as a theme in public discourse. Racial minorities and businesspeople needed to be reassured that nothing fundamental was going to change in economic policy with the arrival of the populist, left-backed Zuma. In the discourse of reassurance offered them, Mbeki-era economic prag- matism is still with us, signalled by the retention of Trevor Manuel in the economic policy team and by the continuation of the Reserve Bank’s inflation-targeting mandate. Mbeki is, thus, many things at once, and perhaps different things to different audiences. No longer an active agent, he now serves whatever role the new leadership chooses for him to play.


The outlines of the post-Mbeki era are still forming. Prior to the 2009 elections many middle-class South Africans assumed that Zuma’s ascendancy would trigger a descent into populism, a rollback of democratic rights, and runaway corruption. From his inauguration onwards Zuma surprised many with an almost statesmanlike inclusiveness, which, however, segued into a seeming reluctance to demonstrate clear leadership in a country confronting desperate



challenges. More recently the coalition that bore Zuma to office has begun to tear itself apart in public, leaving in shreds the ANC’s legendary discipline. So, what is to be the hallmark of the Zuma era? Collective leadership under a benign figurehead? Mob rule? Essential continuity with Mbeki, for good and ill? A leftward thrust? All this remains to be seen. Zuma-ism represented a phenomenon that Mbeki despised:

populism. The movement propelling the ‘Zunami’ fostered a cult of leadership, lacked ideological coherence and appeared sometimes to disregard constitutional order. It mobilisied an inchoate coalition of the disenchanted, including the left, rural traditionalists and the urban poor, against the country’s urban-based political, intellectual and cultural elites. Its demagogic and expressive political style contrasted with Mbeki’s urbane intellectualism and predilection for order and control. Populist revolts against the ANC leadership have dotted ANC history: most were led by Africanists, some by the left, some articulated an ideologically indeterminate or issue-driven discontent. Mostly these revolts were held off, including by previous ANC presidents Albert Luthuli, Tambo, Mandela and Mbeki. In Zuma one such revolt, a particularly ideologically capacious one, seemed to win out. Having borne Zuma to power, is this populism now spent? There are competing possibilities. Since the election the ANC leadership has emphasised economic policy continuity, even while threatening crack- downs on corruption, cronyism and incompetence. But economic policy remains unresolved, delegated by Zuma to an ‘economic cluster’ whose ideologically diverse members jostle for pre-eminence. Some in Zuma’s coalition seek a break with capitalism; the majority in the executive branch favours a socially responsive, developmental version of it. Muddling through economically, as the country has done since the mid- 1970s, seems much more likely for now than either scenario. Meanwhile, a dynamic of radicalisation has been introduced by the ANCYL, which



is competing with the SACP to prove its superior leftist credentials on nationalisation. The prevailing atmosphere is thus one of uncertainty, even as the global economic recession overwhelms Mbeki’s boom. Mbeki-era macro-economic conservatism left the country to face the recession with reserves for counter-cyclical fiscal expansion, but it may also be partly responsible for the fact that the country has entered recession with already brutal levels of unemployment and too little electricity to climb out quickly. The recession is also dampening the Left’s hopes for accelerated state spending on the poor, having vaporised the budget surplus it had eyed for some time. On the positive side, the state is now united in a clear-eyed recognition that HIV/AIDS has reduced life expectancy way below where it lay in 1994, and that the pandemic needs to be treated as an urgent priority. Even, here, though, the president’s well-publicised unprotected extra-marital sex rather blunts the message. Difficult to establish, too, is the safety or otherwise of constitutional democracy under Zuma, though clearly the threat level is now way up. During Zuma’s long campaigns for the party and national presidencies, his supporters threatened to ‘kill for Zuma’ and dismissed judges as ‘counter revolutionaries’ when they made decisions unfavourable to their champion. Zuma filed suits against journalists and the cartoonist Zapiro. The victors of Polokwane purged Mbeki-ites from leadership positions in the ANC, SACP and COSATU. Upon ascending to the presidency of the Republic Zuma assured all that the Constitution was safe in his hands. He and his ministers encouraged Parliament, the ruling party, even ordinary citizens to hold them to account, and the party, if not Parliament (or, yet, the citizenry) has done so. The ruling party’s affiliates and partners openly challenge ANC leaders. The Youth League was, until recently, loudly threatening with political extinction ANC elders who disagreed with it on policy issues. Cosatu bemoans ruling-party corruption. The hands of Cosatu,



the South African National Civic Organisation and the SACP are detectable in public sector strikes and local ‘service delivery protests’. In these senses, the rebellious spirit of Polokwane – which some saw as a heroic pushback against the ‘iron law of oligarchy’ that supposedly governs large-scale organisations – has not subsided, even if it paused for the 2010 soccer World Cup hosted by South Africa. Yet those of a democratic or constitutionalist bent will find little that is reassuring in the demagogic rhetoric and personal attacks exchanged recently by competing factions of the Tripartite Alliance. These do not constitute ‘democratic debate’. (It is thus difficult to know whether the ANC’s official disciplining of Malema, an authoritarian demagogue given to turning the police on his rivals, was good or bad news for democracy; the danger lies in the precedent it sets for the disciplining of others who speak out.) Meanwhile, Zuma has rewarded shady-seeming loyalists with senior positions in the security apparatus and moved swiftly to place supporters in the Judicial Service Commission and Constitutional Court. The police, now remilitarising their system of ranks, are on order still to ‘shoot to kill’ criminal suspects. Media freedom is under seriously alarming assault, with plans afoot for protection-of-information legis- lation and a statutory tribunal to curb newspaper reporting on corruption and perhaps to limit oppositional journalism generally. Meanwhile, liberal-left fears of regressive policies on gender and sexuality have been revived by news of fresh Zuma sexual conquests outside an already expanding polygamous marriage and by the appointment of a confirmed homophobe as ambassador to Uganda, perhaps the world’s most homophobic land. Zuma is more friendly than Mbeki to racial minorities. He seems to picture South Africans as a racially mixed family united under the ANC, with himself as benign patriarch. He has made elaborate gestures of reconciliation towards, in particular, white Afrikaners – see, notably, his inclusion of the Vryheidsfront Plus in the Cabinet and



gestures of sympathy toward the new white poor. He smacked down efforts by the ANCYL to stir up a so-called ‘debate’ on race, taking the opportunity to declare his fealty to non-racialism. On the other hand, the Africanist faction in the Zuma coalition is audible. Malema’s racially polarising rhetoric has occluded Zuma’s friendlier gestures. And while some whites doubtless appreciate Zuma’s racial inclusiveness, many others fail to reciprocate his warmth, viewing him as the incarnation of their stereotype of bad African leadership. There is also the unsettling side of inclusiveness: the implicit threat that those who insist on adversarial politics are rejecting the hand of friendship, even undermining nation-building. This is roughly the spirit in which opposition leader Helen Zille’s characteristically caustic response to Zuma’s post-inauguration friendliness was greeted – interestingly enough, by a wider section of the political and media establishment than that encompassed by the ANC. There was, for a while after Zuma’s inauguration, a positive will to national harmony in which, for example, talking about the ‘cloud of corruption’ hanging over Zuma’s head came to seem distasteful, even passé. What fresh light does this still-clarifying picture of the early Zuma era cast upon the now-buried Mbeki one? It reveals, by the speed of their repudiation, the extent to which certain policies and styles of the previous period, notably its politics of denialism, were products of Mbeki personally. That capitalism and democracy outlived Mbeki speaks at least in part to the fact that these were, by contrast, supported by forces larger than the former president, including by global shifts in power and ideological fashion that he was good at reading. Still, as the current crackdown on the media suggests, democracy’s survival in South Africa is not inevitable; the forces supporting it can be worn down by an authoritarian and securely ensconced ruling alliance. If the political elite does finally extinguish the democratic order, Mbeki’s personal agency may still feature strongly in the history of its undoing.



Finally, the brief history of the Zuma era so far reminds us that the ANC is larger than Mbeki. His departure has done nothing to arrest the party’s authoritarian drives or ideological divisions. Far from having the last word on the shape of post-1994 South Africa Mbeki manifestly left unresolved fundamental questions about the type of society South Africans wish ultimately to constitute. Will it be free-market, social- democratic or Leninist-socialist? Non-racial, multicultural or racially majoritarian? Western-oriented or authentically African? Democratic or Putinesque? The battle to resolve these issues has been a signature spectacle of the Zuma era thus far – with the president himself largely (it seems) an onlooker.