When High Court judge Chris Nicholson ruled last year that Thabo Mbeki had used ‘presidential powers’ to influence South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority’s(NPA) legal action against Jacob Zuma, ANC extremists summarily dismissed Mbeki from State House to replace him with Kgalema Motlanthe. The world watched with horror as a democratically elected president was deposed in a ‘boardroom coup’.
Rejoice Ngwenya, Harare
The NPA of South Africa may not be of a global aristocratic iconic status as the late Soweto songstress Miriam Makeba, but if it was a musical group, NPA would top the charts for weeks in South Africa. Public policing and the war against crime in this Southern African country have always been associated with NPA and its resented ‘late’ cousin, the Scorpions. South African criminals and mischievous public officers were well acquainted with spontaneous early morning raids and implications by the two statutory bodies, until Jacob Zuma’s shadow passed through the scene of the crime.
Former president Thabo Mbeki’s precipitous decline into political oblivion can be accredited to the NPA, yet he is as guiltier as his ANC colleagues in allowing Parliament to discredit the Scorpions whose acrimonious dissolution had sinister political motives. Without the Scorpions and the NPA, the ‘working relationship’ between convicted money launderer Schabir Shaik and ANC presidential candidate Jacob Zuma would never have been exposed in December 2007. Ironically, the NPA has had as much influence in raising Zuma’s political notoriety as it has Mbeki’s demise.
But Mbeki sympathizers former ANC party boss Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbazima Shilowa hit back by forming the Congress of the People (COPE), a new political competitor that has drawn as much attention in South Africa as the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010.
While ANC extremists dismissed the COPE as a fly by night nonentity born out of flimsy dissent, the recent Supreme Court of Appeal judgment by Louis Harms fired warning shots that Mbeki’s flame is yet to be fully extinguished. If anything, COPE can now run a colourful election campaign to discredit an ANC presidential candidate who has a potential of being dragged to court during his term of office.
Zuma needs Mbeki charged
Although Mbeki himself has not taken front row seats in COPE’s political carnivals, the mere fact that Bloemfontein’s Supreme Court of Appeal insinuated that the former South African president was unfairly treated is a symbolic victory against his foes. For now, Mbeki can scream “I told you so!” If, as the learned judges put it, there is no proof that Mbeki influenced the NPA to persecute Zuma, this means the ANC will have to admit they took a hasty decision to expel Mbeki from State House. This is a major climb down that can take the proverbial electoral stock prices of COPE through the roof! The twist of fate is as much intriguing as it is tragic.
Many analysts, including this writer, were surprised that Mbeki did not resist his expulsion from the presidency. Perhaps he was aware of Zuma’s populist critical leverage with the fiery ANC youth league and the patronage-prone COSATU (Congress of South Africa Trade Unions) who had already vowed ‘to kill for Zuma’. But though Zuma is likely to be dragged to Pietermaritzburg High Court to face the original eighteen charges, his body language is inclined towards taking his case to the Braamfontein Constitutional Court to prove that Mbeki remains guilty as charged.
And all this is happening a mere three months away from South Africa’s crucial third national elections. Although the COPE has not placed Mbeki in the party hierarchy, one cannot be dismissive of that were he to ‘win’ his constitutional case, he might just want to take on Zuma in April, setting the stage for a bruising encounter between populism and pragmatism.
Zuma’s Mutshina wam
The prospect of Mbeki going back to the ANC to demand his share of the electoral cake is distant mainly for two reasons. First, his acrimonious departure was prompted by threats of violence and secondly, ANC leftist radicals have always accused him of supping up with multinational capitalists. I will throw in a third ‘regional’ reason – Zimbabwe. There is popular opinion that Mbeki’s so called ‘quiet diplomacy’ is largely responsible for the SADC’s kid-glove treatment of habitual dictator Robert Mugabe. South Africans have blamed crime and unemployment on aliens – mostly Zimbabweans – who have used their superior education credentials to deprive locals of ‘job and personal security’.
The Zimbabwean crisis has caused so much discontent that even moderates question South Africa’s ability to host the 2010 soccer show case with such a politically unstable neighbour. So if it is unlikely that Mbeki can reclaim his vintage position on the ANC political chariot, it is even more dangerous for COPE to invite him to dinner, knowing that he drags behind him a deadly baggage of political mediocrity. Yet even if Braamfontein rules against him, it would seem for the time being, Jacob Zuma’s ‘mutshina wam’ (my machine gun) song will play long into the wee hours of Christmas Eve 2009.
Rejoice Ngwenya is an affiliate of African Liberty and director of Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions in Zimbabwe