Principled democrat Mbeki never resorted to populist methods

Though I might agree with much of what Professor Peter Vale (“Finding lexsis to judge Mbeki” DD, July 13) articulated about Thabo Mbeki pertaining to his role as one of the ANC leaders in exile, I would have expected him to elaborate more on Mbeki’s role in shaping the politics of South Africa.

I also think it is important, not only to note who Mbeki was and is, but who he was and is not. For instance, he is not and has never been by any means, a populist.

Of course, he is an introvert, but it is to his credit that he never resorted to populist methods. Even at Polokwane his behaviour was that of a principled democrat.

In the African Union he also emphasised the need for political and economic stability and highlighted the need for the rule of law and democratic principles and processes.

He sometimes took positions that made his Communist Party comrades unhappy but he stood firm on many occasions as a social democrat.

I think the argument with the colossus of the South African struggle Joe Slovo made him somewhat unpopular in the ANC alliance. The debate then was around transforming the ANC into a socialist party and if that happened what the role of the ANC would be. But significantly the factions that formed then were around a battle of ideas rather than what we see currently, where anarchy, chaos and pursuit of material benefit are the order of the day.

Even when president FW de Klerk unbanned the liberation movements some comrades pushed for mobilising more arms for a huge and total onslaught against the then NP government.

Thabo, of course, was not a military leader compared to the likes of Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils and Chris Hani. And training people inside South Africa then was contradictory to the idea of a negotiated settlement.

Coming to the RDP, I think all of us are aware that South Africa’s image was tarnished and the country was experiencing terrible economic challenges. The country was pretty much bankrupt and the trajectory could not be sustained. If the economy had been on a sound footing we wouldn’t have gone out and borrowed funds.

The RDP was supposed to be a short- term programme to address some of the imbalances created by the apartheid state, such as a lack of houses, roads and electricity for black people.

I think Mbeki is one of those leaders with a questioning attitude, and who might say to all of us that we must contribute to where we go from here.

His popularity cannot be equated with people such as the current president, which is how most of us are going to remember him. — Thozamile Lunguza, East London

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