Thabo Mbeki has no links with the Gupta family and did not at any point introduce the family to President Zuma, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation said. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko

The circumstantial evidence is just too strong for President Jacob Zuma or the Guptas to sustain the denials, writes Xolela Mangcu.

Cape Town - Former president Kgalema Motlanthe said something that has been raised on and off in the interminable debate over succession in the ANC.

It is something that other democratic societies take for granted, which is that political parties that are unable to replenish themselves with younger leaders are bound to shrink and die. The old-timers who have run the ANC into the ground since its unbanning have been too self-obsessed and corrupt.

Take Thabo Mbeki for a start. After so many preventable deaths because of his refusal to provide antiretroviral drugs for HIV+ pregnant mothers, Mbeki still has the chutzpah to say he was right that a virus does not cause a syndrome, and therefore HIV could not possibly cause Aids. What has this man been smoking, that he has missed the difference that antiretroviral drugs have made to the lives of HIV+ pregnant women? What is this giant-sized self-obsession that makes Mbeki so insensitive to the pain he caused so many people?

If 300 000 dead babies would not make him reconsider the consequences of his action, one shudders to think how many more children would have died had he or his preferred successors stayed in office for much longer?

But I am also glad Mbeki has put his foot in his mouth yet again. Jacob Zuma’s bumbling presidency had begun to create a halo around Mbeki. People had begun to forget about how awful life was for so many people under his presidency.

The seeds of our government’s corruption were planted in what Mondli Makhanya famously called “that darned arms deal”. The appointment of an unqualified Hlaudi Motsoeneng to run the SABC has its antecedents in the Mbeki years when Barney Mthombothi was kicked out for party apparatchik Snuki Zikalala. That is when the blacklisting of black commentators from the broadcaster began.

Jacob Zuma inherited the concept of “clever blacks” from Mbeki, who called black intellectuals “the clever amongst us” or, more uncharitably, “foot lickers of the white man”. This was all while Mbeki was privately writing letters to former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, praising him for a speech that many Africans all over the continent found quite repugnant.

A book might have served Mbeki better. At least editors, or peer reviewers if he took that more difficult route, would have prevailed on him to leave scientific matters to distinguished scientists such as William Malekgapura Makgoba and Salim Abdool-Karim, who have rightly repudiated his latest rant as hogwash.

But Mbeki preferred to hold on to the musings of French HIV/Aids dissident Luc Montagnier rather than the voices of South African scientists working on these matters on a daily basis. Clearly our Africanist former president has a thing for things French.

The experience with Mbeki is important for another reason. At the height of Mbeki’s HIV/Aids denialism, the ANC failed to hold their leader to account.

The party is behaving exactly the same way with Zuma, despite convincing circumstantial evidence that his authority over the appointment of cabinet ministers has been abrogated by the Gupta family.

The failure to act against Mbeki led to 300 000 dead babies.

The failure to act against Zuma will lead to a tanked economy.

It is now an almost foregone conclusion that our economy is going to be downgraded because of the actions of one man, and the responsibility for that lies squarely at the door of Jacob Zuma.

The damage he has done to the credibility of this country’s institution is incalculable. And diabolical responses such as the one offered by Moeletsi Mbeki will convince neither members of the public nor investors.

I watched the younger Mbeki spin a rather incredulous yarn on TV about why Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas came out against the Guptas.

He alleged that the real reason Jonas came out against the Guptas was to divert attention from the party’s failure in the Eastern Cape, including the possibility of losing Port Elizabeth in the local government elections.

But if that is the case, how does he explain the claim about Mbalula being offered a job by the Guptas a few years ago? Surely there were no elections on the horizon then.

How does the younger Mbeki’s theory explain the Gupta family’s reported invitation to Ngoako Ramatlhodi’s invitation to dinner, which he wisely turned down? And are Vytjie Mentor’s revelations driven by the same motivation - election concerns - as Jonas, even though she is not from the Eastern Cape?

And what does Moeletsi Mbeki mean by stating that Zuma was not there when these offers were made, when Vytjie Mentor says the president was in the next room?

Or is he suggesting that Zuma is so feckless that he would not be curious about the presence of a senior party member at the Gupta home? Give us a break, Mr Mbeki, your story just does not wash. If anything, it makes things only worse.

Moeletsi Mbeki’s questioning of Jonas’s integrity is similar to the attacks on those who dare to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

If Thabo Mbeki and his Rottweilers could humiliate Nelson Mandela for asking them to do the right thing on HIV/Aids, Jonas would have gone into this knowing the inevitability of such attacks.

The same diabolical response that was shown by Mbeki is now being shown by Zuma.

In both cases, the leaders demanded that those who accused them should provide the evidence. Mbeki said he never said HIV does not cause Aids, even though everything he said and did suggested that was exactly what he believed, including the statement that “a virus does not cause a syndrome”.

Zuma similarly calls on his accusers to provide evidence of him getting those instructions from the Guptas, leaving one wondering why a foreign family has the presumption to summon senior ANC leaders to their home. Could the fact that they are the president’s friends and employ members of his family have anything to do with it, perhaps?

Zuma’s denial of any knowledge of the very Vytjie Mentor he worked alongside for so long when he was deputy president takes the cake in the denial stakes. He was probably too shocked to compose a more credible response.

The circumstantial evidence is just too strong for Zuma or the Guptas to sustain the denials. And the smoking gun will emerge sooner or later.

It never ceases to amaze me how people who should know better invariably do stupid things such as denying things they know will come out. With Richard Nixon it was the tapes. Zuma had better make sure there is no smoking gun, because if there is he will be up for the high crime of surrendering his constitutional duties to private individuals.

Maybe the younger generation of ANC leaders that Motlanthe is calling for will be cut from a different cloth from the old-timers. Our country desperately needs a new narrative.

The last thing we need is a Thabo Mbeki who keeps reminding us of himself and a Jacob Zuma who is single-handedly destroying our economy.

The ANC should take seriously Bantu Holomisa’s call to find an exit strategy to rid our country of “lo tata umoshayo” (“this destructive old man”).

Each day that passes with the Zuma-Gupta nexus intact takes us closer and closer to our economic Armaggedon. Moaning will not avert that certain disaster, only action will.

The sorriest sight is that of a country of 54 million people standing incapacitated by one man and one family. It’s enough to make you gatvol!

* Mangcu is professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town. He has authored and co-authored nine books, including Biko: A Biography, winner of the 2015 UCT Meritorious Book Award.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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