Brent Meersman
Brent Meersman

Frank Chikane’s cautionary tale

Thabo Mbeki “looked like a soldier who was ready to die, if he had to, for the sake of his country; a lamb to be slaughtered for a cause”.

This is Frank Chikane’s description of his leader waiting for word from the ANC on whether Mbeki was to step down from office.

Chikane, who was director general in Mbeki’s presidency all those years ago, gives a first person account of Mbeki’s last days in Eight Days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki.

More than once, he draws religious parallels and paints Mbeki as a saintly martyr, even referencing the crucifixion.

At a discussion of his book held at the Cape Town Press Club, Chikane was asked why Mbeki had agreed to his procedurally unconstitutional removal by the party and not Parliament.

“Lives would have been lost,” Chikane replied. Mbeki, he maintains, sacrificed himself for the stability of the country.

A recurring theme in Chikane’s book is the conflation of party and state and its dangers. In this view, Chikane characterised the manner in which Mbeki was ousted as bordering on a coup d’etat.

Many feel Mbeki let his side down, others that he betrayed the Constitution, and that by allowing the speaker of Parliament to tell him when he should resign, he violated his oath of office as state president.

Chikane is correct when he asserts that because opposition political parties and the media were almost as keen to see the back of Mbeki as most of his comrades in the ANC were, they did not sufficiently interrogate the ANC’s recall and the dangerous precedent it set for the constitutional order. Only the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) queried it.

On the other hand, Africa is so full of leaders who don’t know when they should go, who dig in their heels and drag their countries down with them, that people were simply relieved to see a peaceful change of guard.

Mbeki’s attempt to get a third term had many worried. Democrats were again alarmed by his hope to be de facto president as president of the party pulling the strings of the executive (as Putin did in Russia).

One cannot say what would have happened if he had refused to go. It is hard to imagine the ANC moving a motion of no confidence in Parliament against their president.

Chikane writes, “Lines between [P]arliament and the party were again blurred and [P]arliament was used as if it were a representative of the ruling party rather than elected representatives of the people.”

Chikane, it appears, is a late convert to parliamentary democracy. It is precisely under Mbeki and Chikane’s term as DG in the presidency that Parliament was turned into a toothless rubber stamp for the executive. The ANC then and now continues to see itself as the only legitimate “parliament of the people”, not Parliament.

The cadres’ loyalty, Chikane writes, is to the party not the state. “Comrades believe that the laws of secrecy apply only to those outside their faction or party.” Those in positions of power are prepared to illegally share state secrets and break the law.

Mbeki’s summary removal from office was based on the controversial Nicholson judgment that claimed political interference and manipulation had prejudiced the case against Jacob Zuma. (In Nicholson’s opinion Zuma should have been charged for corruption at the same time as Schabir Shaik.)

Unlike the endless appeals process in the disciplinary hearing of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Mbeki was given no opportunity by the ANC NEC to defend himself, even as numerous commentators in the legal profession at the time were critical of the judgment, and correctly predicted it would be overturned.

That Mbeki’s eviction was extremely shabby we can agree. Mbeki wasn’t even allowed to pack his personal belongings at his official residence, and was denied a parliamentary farewell.

Chikane indulges in a lot of sympathy-seeking for and flattery of the former president. Sometimes it is effective; sometimes it is unintentionally comic-ironic:  Mbeki “always took a discussion beyond the ordinary to a level that stretched the imaginations of his listeners to a point where many simply failed to comprehend”.

Many of us had that feeling listening to Mbeki’s ramblings. This inability to communicate because his interlocutors are all too stupid is, we are told, “why his advisers were few and far between”.

Much of this book involves whitewashing Mbeki’s legacy, some of it beggars belief. Chikane views Mbeki’s retention of Mugabe as a bulwark against Western interference. He makes no mention that it was yet another example of keeping one of the big men of Africa fraudulently in power against the majority will of the electorate in that country.

We still haven’t seen the election observer reports Mbeki supressed. Chikane even goes as far as to suggest Mbeki’s own removal was because international powers objected to Mbeki’s approach to Zimbabwe. He presents no evidence for this.

By explanation of Mbeki’s manifest unpopularity, Chikane makes much use of the hoax email scandal. “Whoever was responsible for producing and disseminating the emails achieved their objectives.”

But Chikane fails to see the gullibility of the former president who seized upon the emails (which were soon after revealed to be fake). Mbeki has only himself to blame. He exercised very poor judgment; his paranoia got the better of him.

Chikane continues in defence of Mbeki that it is unfair to blame him for policy when policy is set by the collective in the ANC. And yet, we know that both GEAR and Mbeki’s bizarre Aids policies were imposed high-handedly from above by Mbeki as dual president of the ANC and the country.

The ANC as a whole must surely take responsibility for acquiescing to his will, but Mbeki as the leader deserves the rap.

On Aids, Mbeki is painted as a champion of the South bravely standing up against Big Pharma, when the truth is that civil society and the Treatment Action Campaign, his arch enemies, did umpteen times more than Mbeki did in the battle against exploitation. It was more their victory than his.

Nor does Chikane mention that when the battle was finally won, Mbeki refused to take advantage of the victory for the poor against Western patent rights. Instead he was appealing the Constitutional Court judgment that would have given effect to the victory. Part of Mbeki’s legacy is that we now spend R4.3-billion annually importing ARV generics from India and elsewhere, when if he had acted at the time we might have been the exporters today.

Reviews of the book have been attacked for being anti-ANC, but they merely reflect the extremely grim picture Chikane paints of his party, a liberation movement at times almost unrecognisable to Mbeki.

Polokwane is where the mask slipped. The country saw the uglier side of the party that rules it: the “unbecoming behaviour of the delegates, the rudeness, the vulgarity”, “an organisation that began to feed on its own”.

One thing becomes vividly apparent in Chikane’s telling of the story: how time and again our secrecy laws and our intelligence services wreck democratic process. Clearly, under the ANC’s current plans with the Protection of State Information Bill and the Intelligence General Laws Amendment Act, it is set to get far worse.

Chikane also asserts that the bottom line on why Mbeki had to go ngoko (now!), and not at the end of his term a few months down the line, was that Zuma’s supporters “feared that as long as Mbeki was president the [corruption] case [against Zuma] would be reinstituted”.

Unsurprisingly, charges were dropped by the NPA and, shortly after Zuma came to power, the Scorpions disbanded. With the ANC’s current hostile attitude to the judiciary and the Constitution, one must ask how far will Zuma and his supporters be prepared to go now that he is in office, if this is what – according to Chikane – they were capable of doing before.

Postscript: Because slipping standards have become a hallmark of our publishing industry, the pedant in me must mention the sloppy proofreading. Besides much repetition (almost a complete sentence in one case) and the immature use of exclamation marks, I found: “nor was he able to cope up with all the personal e-mails”;  “to deal with his personal belongs”; “to try to cause him take sides in the conflict”, “Mbeki did not endear with country”.

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    • Kamikaze Cousin

      The Treatment Action Campaign’s victory,what victory..?
      I’m more interested in the part where you say if SA had allowed the West to bully them we would now be exporting ARV’s to the world.I find that very hard to believe..

      Please expand on this issue.if you may..

    • Ex Africa Semper Ali

      “One thing becomes vividly apparent in Chikane’s telling of the story: how time and again our secrecy laws and our intelligence services wreck democratic process. Clearly, under the ANC’s current plans with the Protection of State Information Bill and the Intelligence General Laws Amendment Act, it is set to get far worse.” Indeed. SA is a democracy in name only. It is a de facto monocracy or party state which is unlikely to be rescued by voters or civil society – they are unable to, no matter what they choose to do or how they act. The Catch 22 is for things to get better – like in other countries that have been through government by those most prepared to destroy and to render waste – such as Somalia – they may have to get a lot worse.

    • Brent Meersman

      @Kamikaze Cousin In 1998, Al Gore as USA VP, wanted SA to back down on its 1997 Medicines Control Act which allowed for generic production of ARVs. The TAC started mass action; you may remember their T-shirts with pictures of Pfizer executives and AIDS profiteers written on them and protests outside the US consulates in JHB and CPT. They networked with ACT UP in New York, Philadelphia, and even Paris. In 1999, wherever Gore went on his presidential campaign he was mobbed by protestors. Under this pressure the US conceded the validity of the Medicines Act in Sep 1999 at a meeting with Mbeki. Clinton at the WTO summit withdrew pushing for more patent protection for Big Pharma.
      India, Thailand and Brazil immediately took advantage and established generic production facilities.
      Mbeki did not and did not implement the parallel import. Today we import from them.
      Many African countries, including SA, now depend on ARV generic imports, the reason why ARV treatment dropped from R3000 a month in the 1990s to R115 today.

      If we had set up factories then in 1999, we’d be the exporter to Africa. In February 2012, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said the state will invest R1 billion in the construction of a pharmaceuticals plant to produce ARVs by 2016 because the ARV costs are overwhelming our health budget. Imagine if we had started 13 years ago . . . We may however now be so late in the game that our state factory won’t be able to compete in price.

    • dumbile

      The book is about the removal of Mbeki not AIDS or ZIM. The second book is coming around September 2012 let us not put horse before cart. Chikane mentioned that some of the information is classified .I am eargerly waiting for someone to dispute Chikane story with facts, a person who worked in the presidency office then. Since 1994 presidents are mandated by the ANC to implement its policies, in SA we never had individual policies but ANC policies. GEAR was an ANC policy not Mbeki policy.
      It is important for all those who personalised the AIDS policy to go and read 2000 government aids policy. Mbeki was within his right to question scientists because they were also divided among themselves.

      It also important to note that Zim is not a province of SA to blame Mbeki for Zim challenges is very disingenuous. Only the people of Zim who can solve their crisis.
      Western interference is highly possible because Mandela was arrested with the assistance of CIA. In fact where the is instability west is always involved.

    • Munch

      Hey Brent,

      You are also guilty of “the conflation of party and state” – in your article you mention “Mbeki’s attempt to get a third term” as if there are term limits in ANC Presidency. Unless you were refering to term limits in being Presendent of the republic. There is no shred of evidence that Mbeki tried to secure a third as President of the country, only conjecture. Don’t be lazy – you too good for that.

      Your analogy with Putin is probably spot-on though! Whoever had been the President of the country whilst Mbeki was President of the ANC would have been Robin to Batmbeki.

    • Munch

      BTW: I stand corrected!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Mbeki was a denialist. He denied the Aids problem He denied the increasing crime problem. He denied any problems with Selebi/Brett Kebble.

      The psychiatrist and author Scott M Peck in his book “People of the Lie” describes denialists as people whose egos are so fragile that the possiblity of admitting to error is seen like suicide to them.

      Mbeki also hero worshipped Mugabe. Chris Hani, Mbeki’s rival, distrusted Mugabe whom he considered to be playing a double game; and the only member of the ANC close to Mugabe was Mbeki. When Mbeki’s wife once phoned Mugabe in a panic because her husband had not come home – Mugabe ground all the planes and closed the borders (re; Mark Gevisser) Actually Mbeki had passed out on a friend’s sofa.

      Much of Mbeki’s policies mirrowed Mugabe’s – including the idea that AIDS was a CIA germ created in a lab; that cattle dipping for ticks was a white plot, (ref: Doris Lessing “African Laughter”) which breaking of the cattle dip tanks has been eulogised by Zuma in one of his speeches as black resistance.

      Analyst after analyst has said that Mbeki could not control Mugabe. My analysis is different – that Mbeki deliberately copied his hero, Mugabe.

    • The Creator

      There is no evidence that anyone in the ANC outside the Zuma cabal was “keen to see the back of Mbeki”. On the contrary; the fact that it took the Zuma cabal nine months of manoeuvre, in close connivance with big business and the DA, to weaken Mbeki sufficiently to get him thrown out, shows how much support he had within the ANC.

      Nicholson’s opinion was that Zuma was an innocent victim of a conspiracy by Mbeki — essentially he echoed the editorials of the newspapers without reference to factual information. His failure to address the legal issue was the reason why his opinion was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal. It is, of course, possible that Nicholson was primed to do this by the Zuma faction — Chikane is too polite to suggest this, although others have done so.

    • The Creator

      The hoax e-mails, which were generated by someone within the National Intelligence Agency and then disseminated by its chief Billy Masetlha (a long-standing ally of Zuma) were not promoted by Mbeki. They were, instead, represented as plausible by the media, which used them against Mbeki and his allies — which was the object of the exercise. The government then was obliged to investigate, although the investigation seems to have been sabotaged by the intelligence services and in the end came to no firm conclusion. Contrary to Meersman’s article, the e-mails were never proven to be false, although they undoubtedly were.

      On the whole, Chikane’s book gets (I’ve never seen a positive review of it anywhere) smeared because he attempts to present a rational narrative which is at variance with the right-wing narrative which the media has presented, and which Meersman parrots uncritically.

      In spite of this, the book is extremely popular and Chikane is widely hailed (though not, of course, by the right-wing press corps). It shows, perhaps, that the press is not as all-powerful as it imagines.

    • Peter Joffe

      It is patently obvious to us all that the reason Mbeki was cut down was for the advantage of Zuma! But why very few of us, or any of us for that matter would want to replace Mbeki with Zuma is the big question other than self enrichment under Zuma would be easy? Zuma has nothing to offer the country and is clearly unsuitable for the top job. What we all do know and we knew then was that Zuma would use his presidency to squash all charges against himself and to build a personal fortune for himself, his family and friends. Crime and corruption have become the order of the day and as this trend runs rampant it is easy to see that it will become worse. There is so much corruption and theft that is ignored or maybe even encouraged by the ANC that South Africa is on a downward spiral to insolvency (see Limpopo). As the Mayor of Johannesburg so proudly likes to say “Johannesburg – a 1st Class Africa City” when in fact it is a 3rd class African city with a 4th class local government overseen by a corrupt 5th class national government..
      There never is and there never will be enough tax money to uplift the poor to give them anything at all so, the ANC fat cats may as well take it for themselves! Mbeki was a tragedy for South Africa but Zuma has become a disaster. When will the time come when there will be qualifications to hold public office? At present any ignoramus can hold office and usually does. Woodwork for the ANCYL and herder and machine gunner for the ANC.

    • John

      Brent, you don’t know what the terms for manufacturing were and so can hardly comment on whether they would have been good. You also don’t know what was being discussed by government and the US/Drug companies andso can hardly claim that the TAC protests were important (in fact it appears the patent litigation by Minister Zuma which would have forced compulsory licenses on the drug companies was a more important factor). Also, the other key issue was that the generics were older drugs developed in the 80s and government wanted access to the more effective (less toxic) combination therapy drugs. India, Thailand, etc, have less stringent requirements and were happy to manufacture generics for use in Africa (and not RSA). The move to India is a recent decision and involves RSA drug companies as input suppliers. Also, you neglect that in 1999 the government could not set up factories (this would even have been opposed by the opposition and business who were calling for privatization, and who were fully in agreement with the US drug companies) as a result of the GEAR austerity measures post Asia & Russia crisis. The reality is that the TAC did very little but to create animosity over HIV/Aids policy. Even the court case victory for which they are praised was about whether the role out should be phased or universal (with government argued it must be phased for monitoring and logistics purposes). The results of the universal roll-out are never spoken of but include the resistance…

    • John

      ….). The results of the universal roll-out are never spoken of but include the resistance problems, thefts of ARVs, use of ARvs as drugs, regular shortages, discontinuance of the ineffective nevirapine mono-therapy, etc (i.e. things that could have been avoided with a more gradual and planned roll-out).

    • Vusi

      This was an enlightening, fascinating and balanced article, thanks.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      In my opinion support for Mbeki/Malema is springing from discontent of the youth with Zuma and his tribal image, which they see as dated and backward. This also happened in Zimbabwe 20 years ago, which is why Mugabe has not updated the election roll since the 1999 roll (the one used for the 2000 referendum which Mugabe lost). Moeletsi Mbeki has written that this is because Mugabe knows that no -one under 25 would vote for him if they were put on the roll. To quote what young Zimbabwean’s 20 years ago thought, which young South Africans now mirror:

      “Sylvia was the child of a polygamous marriage, was brought up to obey….But she is married in the modern way with a husband who helps her, takes equal responsibility for everything, and when she is on these trips is responsible for the children…..her seventeen year old daughter is pretty, lively, independent…

      We ask her to tell us what the new generation is thinking….

      “First of all…we stay at home with our mothers as long as possible because that means we don’t have to have a husband telling us what to do. Secondly we don’t care about the War of Independence and all the people who have died for our sake…We want to have a good time…”

    • Brent Meersman

      @ The Creator

      To accept your point of view we then have to accept as fact that: 1) Polokwane was rigged by Zuma and does not reflect the ANC majority. 2) there was a conspiracy between Zuma, big business and the DA.
      On the first point Polokwane was the only time Mbeki ever stood for election in the ANC opposed. Your 2nd point is just a conspiracy theory unless yo can give us evidence.

      Nicholson ruled only on his belief about corrupted process certainly not that Zuma was innocent. Zuma still has to have his day in court.

      Nobody believes the emails to be true. Mbeki could have dismissed them. Tshwete announced it on TV! He had to make a public apology and he wasn’t fired or sanctioned for his blunder. Neither Sexwale, Ramphosa nor Phosa were even interviewed for the “investigation”.

      I don’t parrot media reports but refer you to the following collections by academics, commentators and historians:
      “Mbeki and After” edited by Daryl Glaser
      “Thabo Mbeki’s World” edited by Sean Jacobs and Richard Calland.

    • Brent Meersman

      @ John #

      Yes, we can’t say exactly what would have happened if government had got behind ARV manufacturing or if the ANC would have cocked that up too. But there is no reason why we couldn’t have tried. If it could be done in India and elsewhere why not here? We could have moved with the times and with the technological advances in ARVs too.

      I am also not saying it had to be government run as government currently seems to envision now, but since government could predict that it would be spending billions in years to come it would have made sense even in a well thought out public – private partnership. Again civil society had the answers and strategies. The reason Motsoaledi has had such success in reducing costs of the drugs is that finally the health department has done what the TAC have been recommending for years regarding the tender processes.

      The reality is simply that Mbeki didn’t believe in ARVs despite the evidence and didn’t plan on any big rollouts if he could help it. He wasn’t ging to invest in their production.

      Your second comment is absurd. It seems you think we should not treat HIV / AIDS and using your logic we should probably stop treating TB as well because of drug resistance.

      The nevirapine court case what not simply about getting nevirapine to be used. It was about establishing a legal precedent to get treatment. It didn’t lock the government into nevirapine, but obliged them to treat with the best drugs as improvements became…

    • Tofolux

      I have now concluded that these forums are for senior citizens only. The bias and distortion smacks of the apartheid era indoctrination and despite FACTS, these senior citizens are not open to be drawn into factual information. Guess one cannot learn anything from any of their contributions, its just old and sad!

    • Una


      I really pity you I thought you were clever now I realise you are a simpleton. Your submissions on AIDS, Zim and the third term for Mbeki are too shallow for one give any credence to them. I can only suggest that you go and read and come back and contribute what makes sense

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Actually Mbeki refused FREE ARVs for all pregnant mothers which Germany offered to supply, calling them poison (ref: Mark Gevisser) And Zimbabwe was definately controlled by SA and the ANC, just as white Rhodesia was controlled by white SA and the Afrikaner Nats (ref: “The Great Betrayal” by Ian Smith”)

      But Mbeki was not the sole African leader with such ideas – they were widespread in both animist and Islamic Africa, both societies being patriarchial and polygamous, where a man’s potency is judged on the number of wives and children (and cows/ camels) that he has . Here are some quotes from Zimbabwe between 1982-1992 from the book “African Laughter”:

      1988: “…officially Zimbabwe is not supposed to have a problem with AIDS. The Minister of Health has just announced publically that talk of AIDS is put about by ill-wishing whites wanting to destroy the infant tourism industry…

      People are dying of AIDS out in The Districts but the doctors don’t say AIDS, they use euphemisms. Sometimes they really don’t recognise an AIDS death, really think it is maleria, TB, ‘flu’….This is partly due to the government claim – at the beginning of Zimbabwe – that any suggestion that the women should not have as many children as possible was a plot by the whites against the blacks…..It is said that the Cuban soldiers now going home are full of AIDS.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      More quotes on AIDS from “African Laughter”:

      1989: “The government may be coming clean about AIDS at last, because AIDS isn’t a plot by the Honkies any longer, but they still pull their punches. The new AIDS poster you see everywhere has a prostitute standing in the shadows while a man debates whether to have sex with her. But it is the army and the police who are the worst affected…The poster ought to be of a man in uniform and a woman deciding not to have sex with him. But everything is slanted against women in this culture…

      Already in Uganda and in Kenya there are empty villages where so many people died of AIDS the survivors fled, from what they see as witchcraft, the evil eye…. And AIDS is still monstrously distorted in political left-wing mythology, Thus, in a group of ideologies, the mention of AIDS will at once inspire denouncements of the CIA who deliberately created the AIDS virus to weaken the Third World. The suggestion that the disease may have evolved from monkeys in Central Africa is a malignant invention of Weatern scientists who allowed the virus to escape from their test tubes by mistake, and who are now covering up their carelessness by lies, putting the blame on Africa….AIDS was impossible in a communist country, only possible in capitalist societies…..”

      Read some recent travel books – the mythology is even worse in Islamic Sub Saharan Africa.

    • Una

      Brent & Lyndall

      Remember that there are many books and narratives on Mbeki’s term in relation to the three main constantly raised issues by liberal (illiberal) media, than what you posit here. I will not even waste my time and contribute to this. Maybe others will and that will be good

      This comment has been edited.

    • Graham Johnson

      President Thabo Mbeki, when asked whether the Cabinet should be held to account for the Eskom crisis, responded:

      “The government takes collective responsibility for the national electricity emergency. This means that the attempt to attribute this national emergency to particular ministers is misdirected. The president of the Republic will certainly not join that effort.”

      This is a paradox. He didn’t even understand the difference between responsibility and accountability. Mbeki’s logic is circular.

      But at least he had some. Zuma’s cronies are completely uncontamnated with logic of any positive kind.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      Whe the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 De Klerk started to dismantle apartheid because communism had been proved a failure, and he thought the reason the other African States had collapsed into corruption was communism.

      Well De Klerk was wrong – The ANC have copied them in their slide to corruption and bankruptcy in exactly the same way, in the name of communism ignoring altogether its collapse in China and Russia and Cuba.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, the ex wife of Zuma is the one that refused to set up an AIDS treatment program when she was the health minister. I think you are too harsh on Mbeki because in DuBois essay “the Veil” he claims that blacks see life through a veil and they have to remove the veil to see the complete picture. You must understand that the last five hundred years the black man has suffered nothing but humiliation so he has created an inferiority complex that will not let him accept the truth.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, down load the “Veil” by DuBois and the you will understand the events around you.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      You just don’t get it – this is AFRICA not AMERICA! Maybe this quote will help:

      “It was during this era that the Pilgrim Fathers took sail for America in 1620.

      In Britain, a period of puritanical control occurred soon afterwards, but it did not last very long….Socially active movements such as the Quakers and Methodists merged within the Protestant faction, but they were never in any way confrontational…….

      In America, however, the past 400 years have seen a different evolution. It began in the days of the Pilgrim Fathers….The ships landed on the Eastern seaboard …Many of the voyagers had their bibles with them – newly acquired and, as yet, unread ……a plethora of individual church groups spread westwards, becoming competative, one against the other….with their culture still firmly set in the puritanical witch-hunting framework of the 1600s”

      From: “The Shadow of Solomon” by Laurence Gardner.

      Which, in my opinion, could explain why America had the Klu Klux Clan, and Britain, and the British colonies, AND South Africa, did not!!!

    • Dilo

      @Brent sounds like you read the parts that suite you
      would have helped if you explored the whole book and read carefully the first few pages which explain why the book was written

    • wlodarczyk czakijew transmisja

      His involvement with drugs landed him 2 life sentences for 3
      murders that Gross alleges he did not do. We
      can get over a physical beating usually in a few days or weeks, BUT a financial beating can be devastating and easily affect us for the rest of our lives,
      not only does it hurt our hip pocket but it can cause problems with our
      relationships and family. Colley would be outpointed (and settle for
      the bronze), allowing Kalule to move on to
      the final stage.