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So, how does President Mbeki measure up against his predecessors?

Human beings are a funny lot.

Because I’ve written a few satirical opinion pieces that were published (plus I’m a Thought Leader, tee hee hee) I have had the “social commentator” tag attached to me a few times. That means that, all of a sudden, people want me to “comment” on things. This past Saturday I took a couple of Dutch gentlemen through the Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto. The conversation naturally strayed to what I thought about the Mbeki presidency. The exact question was:

“So what do you think of President Mbeki’s tenure after succeeding Mandela? You know… Aids, Zimbabwe and things like that?” (OK, he said “Ma-beki’s tenure”, but I’ve learned to decipher these things.)

The way my mind works is that, when I hear a question like that, I remove the chuff and concentrate on the crux of the matter. So the only words that registered in my mind from that question were:

1. Mbeki
2. Mandela
3. Aids
4. Zimbabwe

Let’s all agree on this one: this was not a question. It was a statement. A statement meant to deliver the message: “Mbeki just hasn’t lived up to Mandela and his hocus-pocus views on Aids and jelly-baby hands when dealing with Mugabe make him an idiot. What do you think?”

Now, it is possible that the gentleman, having read some of my articles, was making the natural assumption that I don’t think too highly of President Mbeki. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that I’m Zulu which, as we all know, means I hum Umshini Wami as I take my post-coitus showers.

Like most black people I know, I can be extremely vociferous in criticising the post-1994 order. But let a melanin-deficient individual echo some of my own sentiments and I assume the defensive position. I think white folk call it “playing the race card” — which is coming just short of saying “irrational racist”. I’m open to the possibility that I’m one of those. But this is not the race-card post — that’s for another day.

But the exchange I had with the Dutch dinosaur got me thinking. My father always told me that anything that couldn’t be described in one sentence was probably not worth knowing. I wish that I had done the exercise of reducing Mbeki’s legacy to a one-sentence descriptor. This way, I would have had a solid rebuttal. In fact, I wished I had one-sentence descriptors for all Mbeki’s predecessors, just to put his legacy into perspective.

But I guess I can give it my best shot now. I’ll pretend that history starts in 1652, for the sake of simplicity. I may not be able to capture all of them in only one sentence, but I’ll restrict myself to at least one paragraph:

General Louis Botha (1910–1919)
Freedom fighter/terrorist who fought the bloody Poms and later became the first prime minister of South Africa. In his spare time he chilled with his posse, General De la Rey and Christiaan De Wet. He loved his moustache.

Field Marshall Jan Smuts (1919–1924, 1939–1948)
He fought the British in the second Boer War, and then discovered that he actually loved the bloody Poms and later became a British nut-hugger. He thought Jews and blacks were cool. He continued in the moustache tradition and kept a pointy goatee to boot.

Barry Hertzog (1924–1939)
Another freedom fighter/terrorist/lawyer who hated the Poms’ guts until the end. When not doing prime ministerial things such as wanting South Africa to remain neutral like the Swiss, he groomed his impressive moustache.

Daniel François Malan (1948–1954)
NG Kerk dominee/Afrikaans activist/politician who became the second-oldest man to lead South Africa at a time when the razor presumably was invented (he sported no moustache). Didn’t like blacks much.

Johannes Strijdom (1954–1958)
Beardless, he was in power for a short three-odd years during which not much happened. OK, he didn’t like coloureds and blacks much and even went on a posthumous suicide mission when his bust in central Pretoria attacked a few blacks in 2001.

Hendrik Verwoerd (1958–1966)
The Dutch/Rhodesian professional mindfucker whose obsession with race is reflected in his academic dissertations. He thought apartheid was just a pragmatic labour practice. He was killed by a dude with a giant tapeworm in his tummy and a funny name. He remained beardless to the bloody end.

John Vorster (1966–1978)
I would have gone by my initials too if my name was Balthazar, even if my initials induced images of fellatio. His Nazi sympathetic views, “do as I say, not as I do” approach to Ian Smith’s regime and cordial relationship with a few African states make him a paradoxical figure, coupled with that whole Info Scandal thingy. In his spare time he maintained his clean-shaven look and Mantorised his liver.

Pieter Willem Botha (1978–1989)
The first of a pair of clean-shaven chrome-domes to lead this country. He was a finger-wagging chameleon who both stepped up the repression of political activism and said interracial coupling was cool. Apparently Mbeki cried at his funeral. Some say they were Crocodile tears.

Frederik Willem de Klerk (1989-1994)
The Abraham Lincoln of South Africa and the second clean-shaven chrome-dome to lead the country. His views were a carbon copy of his predecessors’ until he had a Machiavellian Damascus experience that culminated in him being one of the few leaders in human history to negotiate himself out of power. After he quit politics he travelled the countryside giving lectures and wooing Greek wives.

That’s the extent of Mbeki’s competition. Don’t be daft — a one-paragraph descriptor of St Nelson is not possible. So far, my Mbeki descriptor has only one line: “He revived the moustache tradition started by Louis Botha and ended by Malan.” As for the rest of the summary bio, I’m playing a wait-and-see game.

Clearly, Mbeki doesn’t have very stiff competition here. Only Mandela has any realistic chance. And Mandela is responsible for starting a dance craze and popularising technicolour shirts. Let’s all agree that this is just an unfair advantage in this, the MTV era.


  • Ndumiso Ngcobo

    Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.