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

From Democracy Now!

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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.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 09/28/2008 - 11:51


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