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What about Mbeki the man?

What about Mbeki the man? That was all I could think about during Mbeki’s resignation speech last night.

It was a beautiful speech. He said it nobly and with great respect and I was very impressed and even quite moved (which, from the man who has been anything but an emotional president, is quite remarkable).

But the whole time, I just kept thinking, “How is this poor guy feeling?”

I think, with political figures, we give them all the attributes of the opinions they stand by, but very few of an actual human being. Can you imagine what it must feel like to become the president of South Africa, and then have your own party force you to step down before your time is up? To follow Nelson Mandela, which has to go down in history as the biggest presidential shoes to fill, and then to have your own party push you out of office? That is one difficult decision to come to terms with.

Which is why I thought his State of the Nation address was so powerful. The man in him must have wanted to point fingers of complain or whine about how he’d done his best, but he didn’t. The president in him won out, and he was fair and informed and gracious.

And he thanked us. Remarkable.

Before everyone switches into political panic mode, perhaps we should all take a moment to thank Thabo Mbeki. Yes, he was flawed — he’s human, we all are. But he is also a man, having one hell of a week.