William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
27 Sep 2008

Neanderthal Zumites and the Lazarus Minister

William Saunderson-Meyer

Politicians are generally a hypocritical, arrogant bunch, but at least former President Thabo Mbeki’s lot were suave enough to cause one sometimes to forget this.

Politicians are generally a hypocritical, arrogant bunch, but at least former President Thabo Mbeki’s lot were suave enough to cause one sometimes to forget this. Not so with the purified African National Congress and its allies, whose Neanderthal tendencies are impossible to ignore.

Take their response to the dismissal of Mbeki, which was followed by the resignation of some key ministers and deputies. The dignity and humility of Mbeki’s nationwide farewell address drew relieved sighs from the Zumites, until Mbeki indicated that he would challenge in the Constitutional Court Judge Chris Nicholson’s remarks that the president might have interfered in the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigation of Zuma.

Mbeki’s supposed “fight back” and the resignations sparked outrage among the Zumites, who described the resignations as a “dangerous mistake” and as “reckless disregard” for the country’s stability and its international standing. By their reckoning, it is unacceptably cheeky of Mbeki to avail himself of the same legal mechanisms that ANC President Jacob Zuma does, to contest slurs on his character.

The SACP’s Malesela Maleka said Mbeki delivered a consummate and moving performance in announcing his resignation.

“Many in our country, and perhaps even in the ANC, were beginning to wonder why the ANC had recalled him in the first place,” he said.

“Barely one-and-a-half days later, we have all been rudely reminded of the underlying reason for his recall.” The announcement of the resignations “must have been endorsed by Mbeki himself — without the slightest consultation with the officials of the ANC”, the SACP said.

Um? So what? Elsewhere in the world it is a common democratic courtesy for incumbents to resign to allow the new head of government latitude in making his or her own appointments.

Perhaps something was missing from the Democracy 101 curriculum, as taught at the Kremlin School of Ideology, since the Zumites clearly lack any understanding of the differences between party, government and the state. It has not sunk in that the interests of the ANC are not synonymous with the interests of the South African state; nor should parochial party concerns take precedence over the responsibilities of the elected ANC government.

Aside from the damage that the Nicholson judgment did to Mbeki’s reputation and career, its implications for the way that future presidents interact with the NPA clearly should be confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Both the NPA and Mbeki have a right, even an obligation, to appeal.

And then there is the small matter of loyalty to one’s leader. What is surprising is not that 10 ministers and four deputy ministers resigned, but that given the size of the cabinet — 31 portfolios — that so few did.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest hypocrite of the bunch is former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. She had tears rolling down her face after the final cabinet meeting at the Union Buildings and sobbed about how “unfair” it all was to Mbeki.

But as the minister with perhaps the longest and closest association with Mbeki — who always stood by her despite her undoubted incompetence, apparent dishonesty and the widespread revulsion she inspires — she lacked the courage and loyalty to reciprocate.

While she has been deprived — Hallelujah! — of the Health Ministry in the new dispensation, she remains in the cabinet, as Minister in the Presidency. Increasingly, one is persuaded that as frightening as the medical resilience of the HI virus, is the political resilience of the MT virus.

One of her responsibilities is “persons with disabilities”. Of course, the Lazarus Minister. One can just predict it. “Take your beetroot, then rise up and walk, you lazy bastards!”