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‘Let’s use Madiba’s passing to confront our problems’


SI_Thabo Mbeki633

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Concerned: Former president Thabo Mbeki during an interview at his home in Johannesburg. Picture:Sharon SeretloPicture:Sharon Seretlo

There are discussions about things going wrong, but South Africans should use Nelson Mandela’s passing to question the country’s direction and ask “why did we have a Marikana?”

In an interview with The Sunday Independent, former president Thabo Mbeki says he has not lost hope because “there’s a lot of discussions taking place in the country”.

“It might not be formalised in the sense of a conference… I think there is a questioning in our country about things, (about where we are). There are things that are going wrong. Why did we have a Marikana?

“So I think there’s probably a mood in the country in favour of the kind of reflection that I’m talking about, and I’m quite certain, as I say, that there are enough people in the political parties, in the trade unions, in civil society, in the religious communities, among the youth. People who are raising questions. And I should think that sufficient of a pool of people who would be keen to take up these matters in a more systematic way,” he said, adding that even youth are discussing problems facing this country.

Mbeki was defeated by President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in 2007 and was later “recalled” by his own party in 2008.

He warned political parties against using Mandela’s name for their narrow partisan objectives, saying even though it was inevitable given the elections next year, they should also claim and emulate Madiba’s principles and values.

“But it shouldn’t be so much the person that people should want to own as what the person stood for. So I think once you do that, you say, this belongs to me.

“It must therefore also be a commitment, if you make a claim like that, this must also be a commitment to do the things which you admire so much, as a result which you claim to own the person. You also must say his policies are ours, and answer the question what are we doing to pursue those policies,” he said.

The ANC and the DA have been in a bitter fight over who owned Mandela.

Asked if the baton from Mandela’s generation to the current was dropped during the transition, Mbeki said “one would hope there are enough of those successors that would be able to sustain the vision… (and) the values that they espoused.

“To say here’s this generation that’s passing away. And Nelson Mandela was an outstanding example of that generation.

“Are we still acting in a manner that’s informed by those values, that vision? Maybe there’s things we are doing wrong, maybe there’s things that we are doing which might amount to a serious departure, a betrayal of the things, which they stood for. And, so that we are able to say to ourselves what is it that we need to correct,” he asked.

“I think that… when we say farewell to Madiba it’s not only to celebrate a past, it’s the great things that they did, but to look forward (as well). And I would hope really that all of us would want to do that. And I’m not only talking about the ANC – I’m talking about the country… If one looks at the constitution – informed by what that generation stood for – it’s a national document, it doesn’t belong to one particular party, it belongs to the nation.

He admitted that with the passing of the likes of Mandela, Walter Sisulu, OR Tambo and recently Reg September “we are losing a whole generation” of architects of our democracy.

“These are people… to whom we really owe our liberation.”

Mbeki said even though he was not necessarily surprised when Mandela’s family called to break the saddest news because “for some months I have been in very regular contact with the doctors and the family” and they warned “me that in fact it was deteriorating, the situation was getting worse”.

On the Mandela legacy and his larger-than life iconic stature, Mbeki said Mandela was “unhappy about this idea of presenting him as some kind of superior being or something”.

“He actually wrote an article.... and said it is wrong for people to try and present him as some kind of saint. And it is wrong for people also to try and present him, to take him away from the rest of his comrades. That he, was no different from the rest of his comrades,” Mbeki says.

He said this concern emerged when some raised fears of a South Africa beyond Madiba.

“It’s born of this wrong perception, and take the outstanding issue, this issue of national reconciliation, that this was a Mandela policy. And that when Mandela goes, the policy goes with him. And of course it’s wrong. It was not a Mandela policy, it was an organisational policy,” he said.

He also stressed that the Mandela legacy too was never an individual adventure.

“If there’s been any failing, it’s a common failing; it’s a responsibility of all of us. But It would be incorrect to attribute whatever it is that is deficient just to him.”

He added that perhaps it was about time to review expectations created in 1994 based on realities and challenges.

“This expectation was exaggerated. Maybe we would have come to a more realistic view about how far and how fast we would move given the experience that we (now) have.”

Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare - Sunday Independent


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