Then-President Thabo Mbeki, left, and the then-ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma embrace at the 52nd African National Congress conference in Polokwane in December 2007. Picture: Jerome Delay/AP/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Johannesburg - Former spy boss and diplomat Vusi Mavimbela has blamed the bitter battle for ANC leadership between former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma for the governing party’s current woes.

Mavimbela, who is the country’s ambassador to Egypt, said the biggest tragedy to be visited upon South Africa since the ANC’s unbanning in 1990 had been the fight between Mbeki and Zuma in the run-up to the party’s elective conference in Polokwane in December 2007.

“Neither of the two sides to the fight can lay claim to immunity from the blame. Many of the ills that bedevil the ANC today are, directly or indirectly, spin-offs of that bitter fallout,” he said.

Mavimbela, who was head of the then-National Intelligence Agency, between 1999 and 2004, launched his explosive memoir Time Is Not The Measure at the University of Johannesburg’s Auckland Park campus on Thursday night.

He said the ANC leadership and its cadres failed to manage the Mbeki-Zuma debacle.

“The Mbeki-Zuma contestation has nothing to do with what happened in exile. The problem arose when Zuma expected to be Mbeki’s deputy and Mbeki didn’t think he was up to the task. Mbeki wanted to find somebody else. But also, Zuma was already bedevilled by the Schabir Shaik story and corruption,” he said.

Mavimbela said Mbeki had tried to find a way of not appointing Zuma as his successor.

“He ended up appointing him and the dye was cast. The fight was bound to happen and it happened and you know where it ended.”

Mavimbela suggested he had tried to broker a deal between the two leaders, but gave up when Mbeki asked him: “Do you seriously want us to leave the future of the ANC and the future of this country in the hands of such a man? Is that what you want?

That’s when I came to the conclusion that this fight will never end”.

According to Mavimbela, Zuma loved Mbeki and deferred to him completely.

The KwaZulu-Natal-born former uMkhonto weSizwe member said while in exile in other African countries, operatives would say that the gross subversion and derailment of the people’s will they experienced in the rest of the continent would not happen in a liberated South Africa on their watch.

However, Mavimbela said, they quickly learnt that when the moral and political compass is lost, there is also the danger of losing the force of example and the hegemony of persuasion. Mavimbela, who worked for deputy president Mbeki’s office in 1994, said Zuma was not ideologically different to Mbeki.

“Both Zuma and Mbeki called me to come and work with them. I never asked to work with them because they knew me from exile,” he said. Zuma’s spokesperson, Vukile Mathabela, said he could not comment as he had not yet read the book. The Thabo Mbeki Foundation’s Siyabulela Gebe said the former president could not comment.

Saturday Star