Thabo Mbeki's intervention on land collides head-on with the direction of the new, greedy ANC
By writing a 30-page thoughtful denunciation of land expropriation without compensation, the ideological panacea of our time, Thabo Mbeki has thrown himself back into the political thicket. And a good thing it is too.
Reading the document, one gets the impression this could be a teachable moment for many in Mbeki's own party, including some in the leadership. They didn't fully comprehend the implication of shamelessly - and cowardly - hanging on to Julius Malema's coat-tails on the land issue. By so doing, they've thus changed the character and mission of the ANC.
It has become something of an unwritten rule that former presidents shy away from delving into current debates, let alone criticise their successors on issues. They're not supposed to be seen or heard. Which is a pity because their lived experience, good or bad, can enrich our public discourse. They'd bring a perspective that's often overlooked or lost to those too close to the coalface. They've had the luxury of having sat back and surveyed the landscape. Unlike active politicians, they aren't always hellbent on winning every argument. They have nothing to lose.
The irony of course is that it was Mbeki who, as president, unleashed his dogs, so to speak, to silence his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, who, after leaving office, had mildly criticised Mbeki's obsession with Aids - which was to deny that HIV causes the disease. At the time, the disease was wreaking havoc in the country. Mandela was hauled before an ANC kangaroo court where people, who not long before that had revered him as their leader, harangued him and told him off. He went away to lick his wounds, and stayed clear from party matters or anything to do with government policy.
Likewise Mbeki preferred to keep his own counsel after he was unceremoniously bundled out of power by the ANC. He didn't utter a word even as Jacob Zuma merrily plundered and looted with impunity. He made a cameo appearance, but again to defend his contentious stance on HIV/Aids.
The latest intervention is different. He's collided head-on with ANC policy or direction. It's almost as if he's saying those in charge of the organisation neither know what they're doing nor understand the implication of their actions.
As if to school the uninitiated, he charts the evolution of the organisation from its founding in 1912 and some of its major events and hiccups - the drafting of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955, the breakaway of the Africanists in 1958, the expulsion of the so-called Gang of Eight after the 1969 Morogoro conference etc - which shaped its "historical mission", which is to unite all the country's people under a nonracial banner, in line with the Freedom Charter, the ultimate guide for policy formulation.
In deciding on land expropriation without compensation, Mbeki argues, the ANC has violated two fundamental prescriptions of the Freedom Charter: that SA belongs to all who live in it, black and white; and that the land shall be shared among those who work it.
"If the ANC abandons these two principled and strategic positions", he says, "it must accept that it is turning its back on its historical position as 'the parliament of the people'."
Expropriating land from one national group without compensation and handing it to another national group "came across as representing a radical departure from policies faithfully sustained by the ANC during 105 years of its existence".
It was tantamount to saying, 'SA belongs to all who live in it, black and white, except as this relates to land', and 'All national groups are equal before the law, except as this concerns land!'.
The paper is bound to provoke strong reaction on either side of the land debate, especially Mbeki's assertion that the ANC, in tagging along with the EFF on the issue, has not merely voted for a piece of legislation, but has changed the very character and mission of the organisation.
"The argument that has been advanced by the ANC leadership since the 54th national conference about the Land Question communicates the firm statement that the ANC has changed in terms of its character. It is no longer a representative of the people of SA.
"Rather, as its former president Jacob Zuma said, it is a black party." Quite an indictment.
The ANC has always regarded itself as an antidote or bulwark against the National Party's policy of dividing people along racial lines. Mbeki fears that, as a result of a change in its land policy, the ANC is likely to follow in the footsteps of the apartheid regime, with winners and losers changing places.
But some people blame Mbeki himself for changing the ANC's character, from an organisation that proudly espoused its nonracial ethos to one with Africanist tendencies. But the organisation would have changed regardless of who's in charge. It's now operating in a different setting. It is no longer waging a thankless liberation war away in the deserts of exile, but it's now back home in the lap of luxury and in charge of the most sophisticated economy on the continent. It's no longer led by the selfless, wise old men and women who sacrificed everything for the good of all, but it's now controlled by BEE types, shysters, a thug or two and the odd murderer, all in it for a slice of the action. Greed now trumps selflessness.
The ANC has changed because the terrain has changed. It is attracting a different kind of cadre, only in it for his own stomach.