Will second coming of Mbeki save the ANC as it seeks to stay in power? 

Former president Thabo Mbeki for a long time has been operating in the quiet, mostly in the background, keeping a low political profile. 

His demise at the ANC national conference in Polokwane in 2007 precipitated great political turmoil within the organisation – a move that caused great tension and divisions within the ANC, and a split that resulted in the formation of the Congress of the People, (COPE) a group that broke away to form its own home, away from the -Jacob -Zuma-led ANC. 

What was contrived at Polokwane in December of 2007, resulted eventually in the recalling of Mbeki as president of the country, less than a year before the end of his term. 

It would be fair to suggest that the world did not fully comprehend or grasp why Mbeki sought a third term in the ANC, a factor that added to the political ruction in the organisation. 

But this remains true that the undercurrents in the ANC -during that period ran deeper than many who are outside of the ANC political fold can -fathom. 

If you are an outsider, it is difficult to have a fuller appreciation of what the internal dynamics might be, and so an educated analysis of why things happen the way they do in the ANC is almost impossible and are best left to speculative conjecture. 

The conference itself in Polokwane was difficult to handle. The chairperson, Mosiuoa Lekota, at the time directing the programme, had a torrid time trying to keep unruly and restive delegates under control, amid heckling and general rowdiness. 

These disruptions of keeping order and decorum in conference would erupt into a metaphorical volcano – a tell-tale sign that a revolution to unseat a sitting president was on the cards, and was brewing, with Mbeki’s supposed comrades meeting in dark corners contriving a  

The angry cabal, among others, consisted of a section of the leadership within Cosatu and the SACP. Zuma was their man, and they were prepared to go to the ends of the earth to resurrect him and save him from the clutches of the National Prosecuting Authority whose wings were hovering over him, and in the end, install him as president of the country. 

The Reverend Frank Chikane, in his book, Eight Days in September, attempts to explain in detail what led to the coup that ultimately toppled Mbeki, leading to his resignation in 2008. 

Now Mbeki, it seems, is back with a vengeance, using his school, the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs at Unisa, among other things, to engage in the country’s political discourse, and other affairs with African and international bent. 

Recently, at the Freedom Park Heritage Site, Tshwane, on May 1, Mbeki described Zuma as “a wolf in sheep’s skin” and a counter revolutionary.  

He also charged that he played a huge role in the destruction of the state’s capacity to deliver services to the people of the country. 

Mbeki backed his assertion by drawing from reports produced by the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into the South African Revenue Service and the Zondo commission into state capture. 

The commissions found that the revenue collection agency had been compromised, at the behest of Zuma, to exercise its mandate of revenue collection to benefit, among other things, service delivery projects. The Zondo commission also implicated Zuma in wrongdoing. 

What are we to make of Mbeki’s resurgence?  

We do not have a crystal ball to see what the future holds, but we can deduce that he is back to play in a political space – back from the hiatus that kept him away from the robust political contestation. 

At the meeting at the Freedom Park Heritage Site, where Mbeki was a guest speaker, he told his audience he has been in the struggle for liberation under the banner of the ANC for 68 years, starting as an upstart and a lad of 15 in 1956. 

This tells a story – that he is through and through committed to the ANC cause.  

This also explains his grave concerns when he sees “some comrades in the ANC” go astray and compromise the integrity of the organisation by their wayward conduct. 

Nobody can now second guess Mbeki. He is now committed to meeting his political rivals in the centre of the ring, so to speak. 

In recent times he has made no bones about it, even in his campaign trail for the governing ANC, to tell the potential voters, that they should return his -organisation to power, and in turn, the ANC must walk the narrow and straight path to correct iniquities within its own ranks.  

  • Mdhlela is an Anglican priest, a former trade unionist and former editor of the South African Human Rights Commission journals

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