The Tragedy Of History: When Caricature Displaces The Truth – Thabo Mbeki


It’s on record that during Thabo Mbeki’s time as the president, the economy grew at an average rate of 4.5% per year. His administration created employment in the middle sector of the economy and equally oversaw a fast-growing black middle class. And on 20th September 2008, with about nine months left in Mbeki’s second term, he announced his resignation  after he was recalled by the National Executive of the ANC.

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The former president has finally decided to open up about his reign as the president of the country. He’ll be publishing series of essays, and in the first volume of the publication on the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI) Facebook page, the former president talked about the tragedy that happens to history when caricature displaces the truth. Although the general write-up is about the misinformation surrounding the Mbeki’s time as the president, one can’t help but relate the “caricature” found in the title of Mbeki’s essay to the present leadership of the nation.

That aside, the former president wrote that some of the publications that “sought to define my character as I served as President of the ANC and the Republic…said that Mbeki was aloof, intellectual, out of touch with the ANC membership and the people, autocratic, intolerant of different views, sensitive to criticism, paranoid, abused state power to promote his personal political ambitions, marginalised the ANC from discharging its responsibilities as the ruling party by centralising power in the State Presidency, and so on.” Yet again, it is impossible to read this paragraph without thinking of the present government.

Is the former president mocking the South Africa we have today? No, he’s not. He’s just saying that much of the characterization of his person as used in explaining various developments during his time were “written with no facts to substantiate the accusations” and are “in some instances, based on deliberate misinformation.”

“This results in a gross distortion of our history and therefore a failure correctly to analyse developments of significant or major importance to the future of our country.Those of us who had and have more direct information about the processes which are then falsely described by observers as the truth must accept the blame that we have been at fault because of the sustained silence we have maintained when we should have spoken out.”

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To that end, Mbeki related that his article as the first attempt to correct the mistake, “will deal with only one instance which has been used to try to give supposed substance to the allegation about Mbeki’s so-called paranoia.”  He then narrated that;

Early during my first five years as President of the Republic, one James Nkambule, an ANC Youth League leader from Mpumalanga, approached the SAPS and offered to give the Police detailed information about a conspiracy to do great harm to me as President of the Republic.

The heart of the Nkambule story, conveyed with many details, was that the people involved in this conspiracy were Matthews Phosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa. The SAPS Crime Intelligence interviewed Nkambule and recorded his extensive account on a number of video tapes. At some point the SABC came to know of this story and, as we understood it, prepared to produce its own television documentary of the alleged conspiracy…As part of this news report it invited then Minister of Safety and Security, the late Steve Tshwete, to come to its studios at Auckland Park for an interview on the story. By then the broadcaster knew the names of the alleged conspirators and, on air, asked Minister Tshwete to confirm the information it had.

The Minister made the serious mistake of confirming these names live on air, during an evening broadcast. As soon as the interview was over, the Minister telephoned me to inform me of what had happened and to apologise most profusely for his mistake. Naturally I reprimanded him for what he had done and asked that he should see me.

When we met, we agreed that work would nevertheless have to be done by both the SAPS and the civilian Intelligence Agencies, NIA and SASS, to investigate the authenticity of the Nkambule allegations. He suggested that for me to understand the gravity of the Nkambule story, I should see and listen to him, to which I agreed.

Nkambule was then brought to me by people who believed the story he had told the SAPS, people who remain members of the current National Executive Committee of the ANC.

However, after listening to him, I remained convinced that the State Intelligence Services should continue their work to establish the truthfulness or otherwise of his allegations. In this context I asked Minister Tshwete to get me copies of the SAPS video tapes on which they had recorded Nkambule, which he did.

Because of the gravity of the allegations which Nkambule had made, I requested then Deputy President Jacob Zuma, ANC SG Kgalema Motlanthe, Minister Tshwete and Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, then Minister of Intelligence, and perhaps one or two others, to come to the President’s Pretoria Official Residence, Mahlambandlopfu, to enable all of us to view the video tapes together.

This we did and took the unanimous decision that I should task Minister Sisulu with the responsibility to get NIA and SASS, which fell under her, to verify or otherwise establish the authenticity of the Nkambule charges, in the same way as would the SAPS Crime Intelligence.

I therefore surrendered the video tapes we had viewed to Minister Sisulu. It is now a matter of public record that with the Intelligence Agencies having done their work, the late Minister Tshwete then announced that the Agencies had found no truth to what Nkambule had said. He therefore apologised publicly for having wrongly mentioned the names of Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa in the SABC news broadcast.

The fact, therefore, is that neither the Presidency nor anybody in the National Government and the senior leadership of the ANC had initiated any action implicating Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa in any conspiracy. Once the Nkambule allegations were brought to the attention of, and were reviewed by this leadership, the necessary decisions were taken to assess what were, after all, very serious charges which bore on State security.

At no point did this leadership, including the President, take any position that there was any truth to the allegations, insistent that their veracity had to be established through thorough intelligence investigations and assessments.

The late Minister Tshwete understood without being told even by the President that he should never have confirmed, publicly or privately, the information which the SABC had that Nkambule had made accusations against Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa, hence his immediate apology to the President immediately after the end of his SABC interview.

The Nkambule saga, which falsely implicated Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa, had nothing whatsoever to do with my alleged paranoia, which the domestic and international media has continuously trumpeted for almost fifteen years now, to date, based on false deductions and pure self-serving speculation.

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