This was not how it was supposed to end for Thabo Mbeki. The Mbeki legacy, which he had hoped would be built on his championing of Africa and Africans, will be all but forgotten and instead his failures in Zimbabwe, in AIDS policy and now his loss to Jacob Zuma will be permanently etched in the history books. Instead of overseeing a smooth transition to his handpicked successor, he will weather the next 18 months as a lame duck president unable to produce any legislation without phoning up Luthuli House first for approval.
I still contend that much of the voting sentiment was not a vote for Zuma in as much as it was a vote against Mbeki. Even I am extremely uncomfortable with the two centres of power that would have emerged had Mbeki retained the ANC chair during the reign of whoever would have succeeded him as state president. Considering the fear of the chattering classes of a “President-For-Life” one would think that they would be overjoyed with Mbeki being shown the door.
The thinking of some of Zuma’s voters can be illustrated by the following quotes from one Maria Mabaso:
Maria Mabaso of KwaZulu-Natal, smiling broadly and cheering, told the Mail & Guardian Online: “I’m so happy. Everything is going to change because Zuma cares about the people.”
I’m afraid Maria might be a bit disappointed in the future. Who cannot recall the exact same sentiment in 1994 and again in 1999 and 2004. “Everything is going to change”. That has been the ANC’s unofficial election logo since the first democratic elections. I’m sure Maria has said that before and been let down. And I feel she will be disappointed again. There’s little evidence to say that Zuma “cares about the people” when up until two years ago he was part of Mbeki’s inner circle since 1999 until their falling out in 2005.
So what now for Mbeki? If I were in his position, I would dismiss every nonperforming cabinet minister as soon as possible. It must be obvious to him now that they have failed him and failed him spectacularly. Ministries such as Health (especially Health), Education, Safety and Security, Public Enterprises, Home Affairs and Communications have been in a complete shambles the past few years and delivery has slowed every year and yet Mbeki has doggedly protected these ministers instead of kicking them to the curb. That strategy has backfired on him and he must realise that if these ministers had produced the goods in the preceding 5 years then his position would be unassailable.
That being said, the blame for Mbeki’s loss lays squarely at the feet of Mbeki himself. He has forced out of politics some worthy successors who previously seemed like they could challenge his power (Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale) and his insistence in standing for a third term as ANC president only seemed to push more people over to voting for Zuma.
COSATU (well, at least its Secretary-General, Zwelinzima Vavi) has been pretty outspoken about its support for Zuma, and yet Zuma’s proposed second-in-command, current ANC Secretary-General, Kgalema Motlanthe, is not too sure about the future of the tri-partite alliance.
Motlanthe asked candid questions about the relevance of the tripartite alliance in the context of divergent political, ideological and economic values among the stakeholders in the current climate.
Now, should Zuma win, does COSATU believe the rifts in the tri-partite alliance will magically heal? Considering the whole Zuma/Mbeki fight goes all the way back to Operation Vula in the early ‘90s, I’m not so sure.