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It seemed a little awkward, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe sitting up there on the stage of the Cape Town City Hall as human rights champion Mary Robinson criticised his party.
Speaking in soft Irish tones as she delivered the 10th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, Robinson’s message to the ANC was anything but gentle: it was presiding over too many failures.
To his credit, Motlanthe did not let on if she had embarrassed him. The former Irish president and UN human rights chief had, after all, expressed concern at the erosion of the ANC’s moral authority – which might have riled an old comrade.
The party had been tainted by claims of corruption, Robinson said, noting a temporary betrayal of its history.
It was tough stuff from the anti-apartheid figure. She used the 100th birthday this year of the ANC and the 50th anniversary on Sunday of Mandela’s capture in Howick, to reflect. It appeared to be with good intentions: “A true friend tells you not only what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.”
The visiting barrister is no South African, but has made herself part of an increasingly active citizenry airing qualms about the direction the political giant is taking and the nasty impact this is having on the country.
More and more credible voices are emerging, and Robinson’s is one of the most prominent foreign opinions in this vein so far.
Knee-jerk reaction from the ANC would be to snarl at her views, asking what rights a foreigner, even one claiming deep affection for this country, has to pronounce like this. Some will probably go the retort route.
The more thoughtful of them, however, will see the growing chorus of concern among people of standing who are probably not politically driven, and ask themselves why – whether the ANC is, in fact, betraying its own principles.