South Africa: Dennis Brutus on Thabo Mbeki's fall and Jacob Zuma

From Democracy Now!

September 23, 2008 -- In South Africa, the deputy leader of the African National Congress has been chosen to serve as interim president following the resignation of South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki resigned on Sunday over allegations of interference in a corruption case against political rival and current ANC party president Jacob Zuma. We speak to South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus.

Dennis Brutus, poet and activist, was a leading opponent of the apartheid state. He helped secure South Africa’s suspension from the Olympics, eventually forcing the country to be expelled from the games in 1970. Arrested in 1963, he was sentenced to eighteen months of hard labour on Robben Island, off Cape Town, with Nelson Mandela. Today he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and professor at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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AMY GOODMAN: In South Africa, the deputy leader of the African National Congress has been chosen to serve as interim president following the resignation of Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki resigned Sunday over allegations of interference in a corruption case against political rival and current ANC leader Jacob Zuma. In a televised address, Mbeki said he would heed the calls to step down but denied the charges against him.

    THABO MBEKI: I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for fifty-two years. I remain a member of the ANC and therefore respect its decisions. It is for this reason that I have taken the decision to resign as President of the Republic, following the decision of the National Executive Committee of the ANC.

AMY GOODMAN: President Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1997, becoming South Africa’s second post-apartheid president. His replacement, Kgalema Motlanthe, is a former trade unionist who served years in prison under the apartheid government. He’ll serve in office until South Africa’s national election in April.

The in-fighting that led to Mbeki’s resignation has put a spotlight on the African National Congress’s dominance of South African politics. On Monday, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu said politics have divided the movement that once led South Africa’s liberation from apartheid.

    DESMOND TUTU: President Mbeki has scored many significant achievements in our economy and in promoting peace in Africa, most recently in Zimbabwe. But he has made many enemies, even within his party, for his intolerance of challenges and dissent. Those enemies have got their revenge and are gloating as they rub his nose in the dust. There is nothing principled about that. It is old-fashioned, good old-fashioned tit-for-tat. Our country deserves better. The way of retribution leads to a banana republic. I am deeply disturbed that the nation, the state, South Africa, has been subordinated to a political party.

AMY GOODMAN: The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking Monday.

For more on the Mbeki resignation, I’m joined by South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus. He was a leading opponent of the apartheid state. He helped secure South Africa’s suspension from the Olympics, eventually forcing the country to be expelled from the Games in 1970. He was arrested in 1963, sentenced to eighteen months of hard labor on Robben Island, off Cape Town, with Nelson Mandela. Today, he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and professor at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal. Dennis Brutus turns eighty-four in November, joining me now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dennis Brutus.

DENNIS BRUTUS: Thank you, Amy. Glad to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts today as Thabo Mbeki steps down?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Yes. Well, he steps down, as you know, and at the same time he announces, “I continue to be a loyal member of the ANC,” and accepts the fact that he has been asked to resign by the ANC. He will be succeeded next year by Jacob Zuma.

But as Desmond Tutu correctly pointed out, this is really a factional conflict between two sections within the ANC itself, and unfortunately, not going to make much difference for the position of the people of South Africa as a whole, because they share pretty much the same neoliberal ideologies. I don’t see any difference in policy. There will be a kind of a crisis, power struggle, the replacement of one set of loyalists by another set of loyalists. But the central ideological issue is pretty much the same on both sides.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the central ideological issues.

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, it seems to me that when Mbeki succeeded Mandela, he was already committed to a position which said, first we keep the corporations happy. We don’t want them leaving the country. And if the people have to wait—questions of housing, jobs, education—all of that will have to wait. First, we have to keep the corporations happy. And we conformed to the requirements of the IMF and the World Bank or the WTO.

And in fact, when Zuma takes over, after Polokwane earlier, when there was a division within the ANC, he then went to Davos, the World Economic Forum, also met with Merrill Lynch and said, “Don’t worry, the economic policies that Mbeki adopted, I’m going to continue those policies.” So, in fact, there will be a continuity on the economic level, even while people are arguing that the corporations should not be given priority. The jobs and housing, people living in the shacks and in the shanties, as they were under apartheid, still living under the same conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, can you explain who Jacob Zuma is?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Well, there will be various descriptions, and I’ll try to be as fair as I can be. As opposed to Thabo Mbeki, he was part of the armed struggle, spent time in prison for his opposition to apartheid. Mbeki was a student at the universities both in Moscow and then in England, where I met him. I was in an exile, myself. Zuma is seen much more as a populist, a kind of man in the streets, easy to talk to; politically, of course, a lot less academic. Mbeki cultivated the image of the rather aloof intellectual. Zuma is much closer to the people, in that sense. And he has a song about “bring me my machine gun,” which reminds people, of course, of the time when he was part of the armed struggle.

Politically, I think, in my own view, a lot less politically sophisticated than Mbeki. But the idea is being that he’s more a man of the people and, therefore, is likely to pay more attention to their needs. I’m not sure that’s true. Even though he’s being backed by the trade unions, COSATU, he’s being backed by the South African Communist Party, so that the assumption is that he will be more left-leaning than Mbeki was. But actually, there’s not a whole lot of evidence for that. And the chances are that he will simply continue the kind of neoliberal policies putting the corporations ahead of the people in terms of the resources of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Criminal trial that Jacob Zuma underwent?

DENNIS BRUTUS: Right. I kind of avoided that, because it is itself controversial. There are several elements. Of course, previously, he was charged with an alleged rape, in a long, drawn-out trial about that, ended with him being acquitted.

Then came the much more complex issue, an enormous arms deal involving billions of South African rands or, for that matter, billions of dollars or English pounds. The German arms industry was involved. The British arms industry was involved. Most seriously, he was alleged to have solicited a bribe from the arms industry so that if there was any investigation, he would be there to protect them and to stall any investigation. Unfortunately, this is unproved. In fact, it’s never actually got to any kind of conclusive level in court.

What instead has happened is a whole series of legal actions on both sides, either by the government prosecuting authority or by Zuma’s defense, and those have been essentially arguments about procedure, whether the correct process was followed or not. And the latest development there, of course, has been a judge in Pietermaritzburg who said that the procedure itself was flawed, and so that Zuma succeeded at that level. But the judge at the same time pointed out, “This is not a decision on guilt or innocence. That’s a separate issue which has to be discussed. My attention is with the procedure, and I’m saying the procedure was flawed.”

Then he added a very significant footnote. He said, “The process on this issue seems to me to have been subject to political meddling.” And by implication, he was of course blaming Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki has denied it. But as a consequence of that, the ANC could say, we are going to ask for Mbeki’s resignation on the basis that he appears to have meddled in this issue.

I hope that covers some of the legal complexities. It’s very hard to be fair on this issue, but I’m trying to be fair.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, we only have about fifteen seconds, but Nelson Mandela’s position on what has taken place?

DENNIS BRUTUS: On the whole, he’s chosen to be very low-profile. Of course, some of the economic decisions made by Mbeki were really inherited from Mandela. So he has to take some of the blame for the focus on priority for the corporations versus the people. At the moment, he has not had a great deal to say but, like Tutu, has expressed regret. The real problem, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: South African poet and activist.

Reckless attempt to provoke crisis

SACP Press Statement on the resignation of Cabinet Members

Malesela Maleka, 23 September 2008

On Sunday evening President Thabo Mbeki delivered a speech to the
nation informing us that he had submitted his resignation to the
Speaker of the National Assembly. He was doing so as a loyal ANC
cadre, he said. He also stressed the importance of ensuring stability
in our country.

It was a consummate and moving performance. Many in our country, and
perhaps even in the ANC, were beginning to wonder why the ANC's
National Executive Committee had recalled him in the first place.
Barely one-and-a-half days later we have all been rudely reminded of
the underlying reason for his recall.

The announcement by the Presidency that Mbeki had received and
accepted the resignation of 11 cabinet ministers and three deputies
"so far" must have been endorsed by Mbeki himself. We understand that
the announcement was made without the slightest consultation with the
officials of the ANC. We understand that at least some of the
resignations were handed in last week, before there had been any
interaction between the ANC leadership and cabinet. Some of these
resignations appear to have been tabled on the basis of the
misunderstanding that the resignation of the President necessarily
required the resignation of his cabinet. This would only have been
constitutionally required had there been a Parliamentary vote of no

Today's dramatic announcement by the Presidency was a reckless attempt
to provoke a sense of crisis locally and internationally and to attach
the blame for this crisis on the ANC's NEC. A hurried ANC-convened
press conference after the fact, and further explanations from some
key ministers helped to calm matters down somewhat.

However, once again we have been reminded of the underlying reason for
the ANC's recall of Mbeki. Duplicity, the flouting of longstanding ANC
traditions of collective leadership and respect for the unity of the
organisation have been hallmarks of the outgoing presidency. Despite
the moving performance on Sunday evening, the sad truth is that
President Mbeki has never come to terms with the message that the
overwhelming majority of ANC delegates sought to convey at the ANC's
52nd National Conference. The present fight back campaign betrays a
reckless disregard for stability in our country and for the standing
of South Africa internationally. We are sure that the majority of
South Africans will see through all of this and will not allow this
recklessness to prevail.

The SACP together with its allies will ensure that this recklessness
does not prevail. As the SACP we will make sure that our revolution is
not derailed either by our enemies and our detractors from "within".
We call upon all communist to defend the correct decisions taken by
the ANC NEC.

Issued by the SACP

Contact Malesela Maleka, SACP Spokesperson, 082 226 1802,


Political imbecility and sycophancy
Castro Ngobese, 23 September 2008

The Young Communist League [uFasimba] notes with shame and utter disgust the resignations of key Cabinet Ministers and the Deputy President of the Republic in retaliation to the African National Congress National Executive Committee decision to recall Mr Thabo Mbeki.

The resignations reflects political imbecility and sycophancy and reaffirms our long held view that they were not loyal to the ANC and the people of South Africa in executing their duties of improving the lives of our people for the better.

The resignations expose their embedded politics of patronage and loyalty to an individual over the organisation as demonstrated by the Mbeki administration over the past 10 years of his stewardship. Obviously this serves a hidden agenda intent on challenging the Alliance and democratic forces as a whole.

We call on the Alliance as the political centre of power and governance in the country to provide decisive leadership by identifying cadres within our ranks to fill the vacancies as a result of these ill – informed and misguided resignations.

As the YCL we will urge the Alliance to have a structured political discussion on the emerging and foreign tendency whereby cadres of the movement are more loyal to an individual than the organisation they serve. Surely, this act of political immaturity and greed was meant to plunge the movement into a deep political and leadership crisis. The Alliance must rise to the occasion!

This should serve as a lesson to the ANC and the Alliance where our tried and tested cadres see state perks and power as the alpha and omega of serving the country.

The YCL urges South Africans in general and the youth in particular to be calm and have confidence in the leadership collective of the Alliance to manage this painful and difficult transitional period in the interests of defending the abuse of state organs and continued dispensation of patronage to settle narrow and factional battles within the ranks of the movement.

The YCL will support the new administration as led by the Deputy President of the African National Congress [ANC], Cde Kgalema Mothlante.

Castro Ngobese, YCL National Spokesperson


25 September 2008


Amandla Publishers ( agrees with Archbishop Emeritus and
the Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu that "If South Africa was a democracy,
there had to be certainty that those who led it were as uncorrupt as
possible. It is a court of law that will ultimately decide whether [leaders
are or not]". Through publishing the bi-monthly Amandla magazine Amandla
Publishers contributes to building left and working class organisations and

The recall of Thabo Mbeki by the ANC NEC has less to do with his performance
and policies he put in place as President and more to do with the internal
conflicts in the ANC. If Thabo Mbeki's recall truly stemmed from his
policies and leadership style he should have been recalled a long time ago.
He should have been fired for ramming through economic policies that left
the structure and ownership of the economy largely unchanged, and policies
like GEAR which liberalised the economy, helped drive tens of thousands of
jobs and widened inequality. His AIDS policies resulted in the avoidable
death of hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS who were
denied proper medication, nutrition, access to basic services and
misinformation about the disease. His attack on free debate and his
interference in independent state institutions such as the SABC, the Medical
Research Council, the Medicines Control Council and others were sufficient
for him to have been impeached by a consistent ANC dominated Parliament
committed to the constitutionally guaranteed independence of public
institutions in an open and democratic society.

These current conflicts centre on the allegations of corruption linked to
the arms deal and the factional struggle for power and privilege associated
with access to positions in the ruling party and government, including black
economic empowerment "deployments". Amandla Publishers adds it voice to the
many South Africans calling for a full investigation into the Arms Deal so
that those implicated in corruption can be prosecuted and those falsely
accused can be cleared. A full and transparent investigation must occur.

Amandla Publishers supports the call for a judicial commission of inquiry on
the Arms Deal whose hearings and report must be open to the public, and
following which all those individuals implicated in corruption and other
crimes must be subject to criminal prosecution without fear, favour or
prejudice, and those who were unfairly accused of corruption and other
crimes being cleared publicly. We call for public vigilance and mobilisation
in support of the progressive values of our Constitution. We call for
sustained social mobilisation to advance the socio-economic interests of the
poor and working people and the building of left voices and platforms.

The political leadership of our country seems to waver on its commitment to
a modern, plural, open, progressive and vibrantly democratic system. This
underlines the need for poor and working people to actively and robustly use
their social power (including those progressive aspects of the South African
Constitution) to advance their interests.

This crisis also shows that South Africa needs a different politics: a
progressive popular politics, an efficient state providing quality public
services, clean governance untainted by fraud and corruption, transparency
and competence in the state and all public institutions.

For this we need campaigning trade unions, political parties, civics, social
movements, community based organisations, churches and others united behind
practical and easily understood objectives. As Amandla Publishers, we commit
ourselves to work with others to contribute to the building of such
organisations that promote social and economic growth and development that
prioritises and meets the needs of ordinary poor and working people.


1. Brian Ashley – Amandla Publishers Co-Managing Editor

2. Mazibuko K. Jara – Member of the Editorial Collective of Amandla

3. Vishwas Satgar – Member of the Editorial Collective and Editorial
Advisory Board of Amandla Publishers

Crimes of the great denialist
ZACKIE ACHMAT: COMMENT - Sep 27 2008 00:00

On September 20 2008, as South Africa’s newly acquired Gripen fighter jets took off from a local air show to parade across Cape Town skies, residents would awaken to one of the most remarkable days in the political history of the republic. The Mbeki-Pahad monolith had collapsed.

The decision by the ANC to recall President Thabo Mbeki represents the downfall of the most hubristic executive in contemporary South Africa, and one that has been characterised by the unrelenting denialism of the greatest threats facing our country -- the mounting failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute and convict criminals, the increasingly disturbing nature of violent crime, burgeoning inequality and unemployment, the HIV/Aids catastrophe and the culture of impunity for corrupt and incompetent public officials.

The imposed resignation was long overdue. There were valid reasons to impeach Mbeki even before the Chris Nicholson judgement on three particular charges, all of which in their own right provide enough justification for such action.

First his culpability in the death of hundreds of thousands of ­people in South Africa with HIV/Aids cannot be underestimated and its impact will be felt for generations. Death certification by Stats SA shows more than 1,5-million deaths in the ages 0-49 and more than two million new infections during his rule. The long-overdue roll-out of a comprehensive antiretroviral programme, compounded by state-sponsored pseudo-science, has left 524 000 people desperately in need of the life-saving treatment unable to access it. As a direct result life expectancy has dropped every year Mbeki has been in office.

Second is the indisputably corrupt nature of the arms deal, in which he ruthlessly covered up the extent of the venality of European companies, ANC politicians and business people associated with the deal. Mbeki’s downfall coincides almost eight years to the day (September 15 2000) when the Auditor General reported to Parlia­ment that the arms deal departed from procurement practices in terms of conflicts of interests and the exclusion of price as criteria in the selection of the companies.

Parliament then established a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising the Auditor General, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Protector. In November 2001 the JIT report was finally released. The original report confirmed the Auditor General’s earlier findings, but it was amended by the executive under Mbeki to exonerate Cabinet and MPs. Here is the smoking gun of executive lawlessness. The tampering with the JIT report should be explained by Mbeki in a high court trial should he wish to clear his name.

Last is the criminal breach of the separation of powers based on the two issues outlined above, which led to the undermining of Parliament, the Medicines Control Council led by Peter Eagles, the Medical Research Council led by Anthony Mbewu, the Human Rights Commission then led by Barney Pityana, the Public Protector, the Commission on Gender Equality, Scopa, the Auditor General, the National Prosecuting Authority and others.

Mbeki’s failure of principle, and the consequent executive lawlessness and culture of impunity, from Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to Alec Erwin and Jackie Selebi, has undermined democracy, the rule of law and freedom. Corruption has entered the body politic like a malignancy everywhere, from Travelgate to local government, Schabir Shaik, Fidentia and deals on nuclear power.

The ANC leadership, under its president Jacob Zuma, must now guarantee four critical elements to stabilise and rebuild South and Southern Africa:

First it must guarantee that the rights enshrined in the Constitution, the founding values of open, accountable and responsive government based on the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution will be respected.

Second the violent rhetoric of thugs such as Julius Malema -- underscored by the physical violence at ANC branches across the country -- against political opponents and the judiciary demands unequivocal condemnation by every ANC, Cosatu and civil society leader.

Third Kgalema Motlanthe, the new acting president of the country, must appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal immediately. Leaving corruption intact will undermine the legitimacy of all governance by the ANC. The arms deal must be cancelled because of the corruption and the past and future drain on resources to rebuild our country.

Finally the ANC must develop a clear vision to rebuild our country’s safety and security, education and health systems, based on sound economic policies that address the structural inequalities based on class, race and gender and affirm a mixed economy. This must be accompanied by an action plan for democracy, the rule of law and economic integration in Southern Africa.

Zackie Achmat is the deputy general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign and a founding member of the recently formed Social Justice Coalition