An Open Letter to a Seasoned Cadre – By Tiisetso Makhele
Dear Mr. Thabo Mbeki
Ordinarily, I do not make a mistake of addressing seasoned cardres, whose level of political consciousness and superiority has surpassed that of myself. I do not even intend to do such, not now nor in the future. This letter is a statement of my disappointment at the level at which you, Mr. Mbeki, have betrayed my trust and confidence in your revolutionary capital. Let me take some time to unpack the origin and extent of this disappointment for you.
The Thabo Mbeki I idolised
When I was an undergraduate economics student at the University of the Free State in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s, I was known to be a collector of your writings and pieces. I still recall, vividly, the number of times I have read and re-read your outstanding speech before a delegation of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid in London, on 13 April 1964
In this address, Mr. Mbeki, you argued passionately that your father, late Govan Mbeki, and other Rivonia Treason Trialists, did not deserve to be found guilty and to be possibly executed for their participation in the struggle against Apartheid. At a meagre age of 22, you made a sterling case at that August session. I therefore idolised the passion, bravery and sheer clarity that you displayed in that particular moment. I, like many other young South Africans, therefore idolised the character you showed from that period until when you were the President of the ANC and of the country. I still have unparalleled respect for that Mbeki.
The metamorphosis of Thabo Mbeki
Ever since you lost an election contest at the ANC’s 52nd National Conference in Polokwane in 2007, followed by your recall as President of the Republic in 2008, you have proved to be different from the Thabo Mbeki I knew, or that I thought I knew, before. If you were not writing letters to the leadership of the ANC and circulating same to the media, you were developing a sinister characteristic of being either a passive ‘member’ of the ANC, or of being purely anti-ANC.
Rather than campaign for the ANC, a party that created you, you were quick to point out to the media that “only God knows” which party you were to vote for. This represented a total shift from someone who in the near past actively took to the streets to mobilise society behind the ANC. This shift in your political character has utterly disappointed me.
The new Thabo Mbeki and his revisionist ideological posture
It amazed me, or embarrassed me, when you recently disputed the presence of white monopoly capital in South Africa. You reduced the views of the ANC that white monopoly capital was the main enemy of the revolution as a possible “misdiagnosis of the South African economy”. When did our economy change Mr. Mbeki?
On 20 November 1999, when addressing the national conference of the Black Management Forum, you argued that the country needed a black capitalist class in order to ensure the economic empowerment of black people. You took this stance after realising that, five years after freedom, more than 50% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was in the hands of the white minority?
One can conclude that you thought the creation of a black capitalist class was important in order to operate as an economic antithesis for the prevailing white capitalist class. If the above conclusion is correct, Mr. Mbeki, how is the status quo different now? When did the material conditions that required a black capitalist class change; after the 2007 ANC Conference in Polokwane? One is amazed.
A year earlier, in 1998, you had made a striking analysis of the South African socio-economic context, in your famous “two nations” narrative. “One of the nations is white, relatively prosperous regardless of gender or geographic dispersal – it has ready access to a developed economy, physical, educational communication and other infrastructure. But the second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in rural areas, the black rural population in general and those with disabilities”, you wrote.
This finding is not in any contradiction with that of the ANC. In fact, it has been the belief of the ANC and the SACP (when the latter was still pursuing socialism) that South Africa was divided along class, racial and gender lines as a result of the incidence of a colonialism of a special type. It would seem that today you have forgotten all those? But why, Mr. Thabo Mbeki?
At the 50th ANC Conference in Mafikeng, 1997, where you were elected President, the ANC adopted a Strategy & Tactics document that stated that “…the white owners of large corporations enjoy opportunities both within and outside South Africa that apartheid could not afford them”. Has this objective reality in the context of the South African economy changed, Mr. Mbeki?
It goes without saying that you possess an extraordinary amount of intellect, vision and wisdom which, if you had not adopted this newly-found revisionism, denialism and an ahistorical posture, you would have probably been afforded the historical position only reserved for the likes of giants like Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani and Inkosi Albert Luthuli.
Whilst I know that my opinion might not matter to you, it is worthy to indicate that I am disappointed in you. I have, unfortunately lost all respect I had for you. Even if you disagreed with the current leadership, it would have been respectable for you to raise your views in proper structures, like the recent 5th National Policy Conference. Your name shall remain in history as one of the foremost enemies of logical, consistent and revolutionary thought. I hope and pray that you will come to your senses and retain your position as an inspirational leader that some of us used to honour and respect.
Makhele is an ANC member in Bram Fischer Branch, Mangaung Region. He writes in his personal capacity