SA must carry on without Mbeki

Aubrey Matshiqi, Business Day, Johannesburg, 30 May 2008

Those who have seen me know that I have a poor dress sense. This lack of sartorial elegance results from an antipathy towards things fashionable. This fear of becoming a trendoid seized me when I was a teenager and read someone comparing being fashionable to signing a petition.

In the same way that Thabo Mbeki, then deputy president, inspired young and old upwardly mobile black men to wear hideously coloured shirts with white collars in the late ’90s, he has now become the object of a new craze.

It is now not only safe but fashionable to openly criticise the president of our headless state. These attacks on Mbeki have now been joined by those among us who, in the past, have lacked gumption. In this climate it would be completely inappropriate not to join the growing queue of Mbeki bashers.

Pursuant to this goal, I have decided to share a remarkable discovery. I have solved the Thabo Mbeki and Benny McCarthy puzzles. One received his training at the Benny McCarthy School of Politics, and the other is a graduate of the Thabo Mbeki Soccer Academy. In fact these institutions are England’s best kept secret. Their mission is to produce graduates who are deaf to calls for assistance from fellow citizens. We should not be too critical of McCarthy though, because it must be very difficult to juggle a career as a Bafana Bafana striker and the daunting task of changing nappies. This leaves us with Mbeki. What is his excuse for going AWOL when he should be among his people performing his presidential duties?

IN AN attempt at responding to this question, a presidential spokesman shared with the nation an insight of which none of us were aware. He said the president was not able to go to the areas affected by xenophobic violence because he was busy with domestic and international affairs. As enlightening as this information is, I still do not understand which part of the xenophobic violence was not domestic or international since foreigners were attacked on our domestic soil.

In an interview with SAfm, and in response to criticism that Mbeki’s address to the nation had been a case of too little and two weeks late, he said his phone had been “buzzing” nonstop with people who wanted to congratulate the president for the address. He went further to say that the majority of South Africans did not share the criticism levelled at Mbeki. What he did not clarify is whether he had been phoned by the majority of South Africans, or whether this approving majority was constituted by most of those who know his cell number.

Frankly, I do not care what the answer is. I am beginning to gravitate towards the view that we, ordinary citizens, have become an irritation to the Presidency with our constant nagging. How else should we explain the disdainful tone with which presidential spokesmen talk to us? Why should we call on our leaders to explain their decisions and indecision when we are nothing but a mere “motive force” that exists to promote the interests of their National Democratic Revolution? Why should those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, the people of Zimbabwe, the community of Khutsong and poor communities affected by xenophobic violence think they matter to the collective who run this country?

I agree with the carefully disguised position of Business Day on whether we should be calling on Mbeki to step down or not. There is no point in making such a call because we are simply adding to the list of things the president must ignore. I will, therefore, desist from making further statements to this effect. What we must do, is to give the president a taste of his own medicine. We must ignore him and find ways of coping without him. As difficult as this may be, we must try to continue with our lives as if we have no head of state.

· Matshiqi is senior associate political analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies


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