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Could Mbeki be too smart to govern?

I get many emails from satisfied readers and from readers who think I’m a nitwit. One reader of the Silwane Files sent me this email:

Hi Ndumiso,

I thoroughly enjoyed your blogs from when you were blogging on Amagama. I have noticed that since you started blogging on Thought Leader, you have been on a political tip. Seriously dude, stop it. Your political ignorance is embarrassing. Do what you do best; stick to the light-hearted stuff.

Yours truly,
A fan

Ouch, indeed!

Mr A Fan (what a funny name) is missing a minor detail about the way my brain functions. All his email has achieved is to make me even more determined to write about politics. From now on, writing about politics is going to be my personal challenge. So here’s my next attempt at making sense of yet another political situation. I hope my “embarrassing” ignorance doesn’t shine through in this one.

I recently had an interesting debate with an individual during a business lunch. The debate was sparked off by his assertion that President Thabo Mbeki is a bad president because he “intellectualises” everything. Among other utterances:

“Mbeki should be in an academic institution, not running government.”

“Mbeki spends too much time thinking and not enough time on implementation.”

“Mbeki has no compassion. Look at how he has intellectualised the Aids debate.”

I consider this my opportunity to dazzle Mr Fan with my notorious ignorance and oversimplifications. What I understood the gentleman to be saying was;

“Mbeki is a smart thinker. This country doesn’t need a smart, thinking president. We need someone a bit dumber, who thinks less.” (?)

I imagine that’s the reasoning behind the United States populace’s high-calibre decision to vote George W into the White House twice. They were just too tired of presidents who waste taxpayers’ money thinking, reading and shit. Al Gore had no chance. I do not imagine that George Walker has ever read anything more sophisticated than “A cat sat on a mat”.

But this is about South Africa. Elsewhere I wrote elaborately about the fact that my dedication to democracy is rather fickle. I like the idea of a sage, a super-person smarter than me running the country and making all the important decisions for me. My only commitment to democracy is to make a cross and get on with my life. The intricacies of governance are too complicated for me. (I expect plenty of backlash against this lazy, lackadaisical attitude towards my citizen’s duties. Shoot.)

The mistake I seem to be making is making the assumption that everybody is in agreement with this statement: “Smart people are preferred over dumb people.”

Until now, that is. Clearly I’m wrong.

And now I’m just downright confused. My friend from the business lunch assures me that he studied political studies at university and that sometimes countries do not need leaders who can think. And we just do not need a thinker in the Union Buildings at this point in our history. Oh, and it’s a “very complicated matter this”. Uh-huh …?

I wonder how many other voters feel exactly the same way. I know who doesn’t believe that. Minister Mosiuoa Lekota. He recently went on a rant about certain individuals who do not “think clearly” (sic) who want to ascend to high positions. Not naming names or anything, of course. Is it possible that he has inadvertently helped the chances of these nameless cretins (thanks again, Zapiro) of becoming the next president of the country? If my friend from the other day’s lunch is right, it seems that dumbness is in vogue.

I’m still trying to make up my own mind on where I stand on this one. Do I want a smart president or a dumb one? It’s an important decision, this. Although I must confess that it does feel a little bit like I’m mulling over whether lots of money is better than less money. In my ignorant mind I have always just made the assumption that a president’s job is to do exactly what Mbeki is being accused of doing; thinking about stuff. But I have clearly been taking too much for granted.

I’ve always just assumed that a president’s job is to make intellectual decisions. To spend that surplus R5-billion on education or on health? In essence, is it more important at this point that the kids remain healthy or that they read? I must admit, it seems to me like a job that needs a smart thinker. Lord knows, I’d be too ignorant to make these decisions. I’m too dependent on links from Google and Wikipedia as my sources of information.

On the other hand, perhaps a dumb president will flip a coin and still arrive at the same conclusions as The Thinker currently in the Union Buildings. George W has been in charge for seven years already. The US seems to be still doing fine, give or take a few thousand dead soldier boys and a deputy president who engages in drive-by shootings of lawyers.

I look forward to comments and emails explaining the nuances that I am glossing over. I expect nothing less than well-written emails with big words telling me what I’ve already stated, that I’m a simpleton who grossly oversimplifies extremely complicated matters and how I should stop being a presidential nut-hugging sheep.

How much have I embarrassed myself here? Mr A Fan, I eagerly await your feedback.

[email protected]


  • 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.