Even as he rejects the former president's washing of hands over claims of a plot against him, Mathews Phosa says the ANC still needs him. He spoke to Piet Rampedi
ANC veteran Mathews Phosa has called on the party to rope in Thabo Mbeki in an advisory role, arguing that the former president's "wisdom" is crucial to help resolve South Africa's crises.
Mbeki, said Phosa, should not be "hanged for one mistake" - a reference to perceptions that Mbeki had mistreated his political rivals, including President Jacob Zuma, when he was in power.
Phosa made his call in response to an article Mbeki published online this week giving his version of events in the alleged 2001 plot, later found to be false, to assassinate him.
Ironically, Phosa was named as one of the plotters - alongside Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
Phosa this week urged Zuma and the ANC to create a council of elders to advise the party on difficult situations, rather than allowing personal differences to trump national interests.
"Mbeki is a great asset to this country and he will remain that," he said. "He is a strategist. He is a good leader. He is one of those leaders who was a shining example of strategy in action. He could find solutions where many people would see darkness."
A former ANC treasurer, Phosa said that despite Mbeki's weaknesses, his leadership capacity and management of the economy remained unmatched.
The ANC, which recalled Mbeki as president in September 2008, eight months before his five-year term would have ended, should "maximise the use for Mbeki", he said.
"Why is he locked up in Sudan and other far places? What are we making him do in this country? We should make use of the wisdom he has in the sense of giving advice on difficult issues, like economic issues.
"He is a very serious economist. He didn't read it from in the streets. He read it from the books," said Phosa.
Under Mbeki, he insisted, the economy had performed extremely well - the "graphs speak for themselves".
Asked whether he thought Zuma had allowed his personal differences with Mbeki to overshadow reason, Phosa replied: "My view has always been that if there are personal differences, they should not become more important than national interests because if they [do], then we are acting incorrectly."
Mbeki had all the time in the world as a retired politician, said Phosa, and "all those people in the cabinet are busy".
Phosa said Zuma's sacking of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister was "unfortunate" because it destroyed the world's confidence in South Africa's fiscal management.
"It doesn't matter whether you put Pravin [Gordhan] or you put whomever. That confidence is not going to come back tomorrow. And we all must sink that in our heads. The confidence in us as a country has been shattered."
Phosa, however, rejected Mbeki's assertion in the letter this week that he, Mbeki, had nothing to do with implicating Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa in the so-called plot to overthrow his government.
He said Mbeki's failure to dismiss the rumour plot when it surfaced in April 2001, the timing of his letter and his failure to break his silence while former Mpumalanga ANC Youth League leader James Nkambule and former safety and security minister Steve Tshwete - the two key players in the saga - were still alive raised ethical and moral questions.
Mbeki's letter opened old wounds and was defensive.
"If it was true, he would have said it when Steve was alive and Nkambule was alive. In the absence of evidence we must hold judgment on it. He should have spoken at the time. Why he didn't speak at the time I cannot explain. It's very strange to me and it's a bit of a problem."
Mbeki's failure to reprimand Tshwete in public meant that "he failed a moral standing there", Phosa said.
Mbeki's decision not to follow suit when Nelson Mandela dismissed the claims on the spot was a sign of "weakness in leadership" because he chose to "govern by gossips" rather than facts.
Mbeki's letter denied accusations that his administration had orchestrated the conspiracy claims. The former president said such beliefs were "based on deliberate misinformation" and "gross distortion" of history.
"The Nkambule saga . . . had nothing whatsoever to do with my alleged paranoia, which the domestic and international media has continuously trumpeted for almost 15 years now, to date, based on false deductions and pure self-serving speculation," Mbeki wrote.