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Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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‘I thought it unlikely for Ramaphosa to be a President’-Mbeki

Moeletsi Mbeki, businessman, deputy chair of the South African Institute for International Affairs and brother of former President Thabo Mbeki had a talk held at London’s School of Economics and Political Science on Tuesday.

He told a packed audience at LSE that the achievement of Mandela's cherished ideal of democracy in South Africa still had a long way to travel.

The main political dynamism, he said, was between state power and civil society – that part of society that is outside government and includes business,

the media, pressure groups and the trade unions. Civil society was well established in South Africa, he said, compared with Zimbabwe and other countries that still have a peasantry which enables tight state control,

 “What we are seeing in South Africa today is a skirmish between the state and civil society, the unions, the private sector and the church over enrichment and anti-constitutional moves,” said Mbeki, adding that “the Constitution has started to become a handicap for the ruling elite in terms of accumulation.”

Mbeki said that the removal of his brother Thabo as President in 2008 was unconstitutional. “The constitution says a president can only be removed by impeachment. The ANC visited him at home one night and forced him to resign.” The ANC then proceeded to disband the investigative police unit, the Scorpions, and manipulate legal appointments like the Attorney General and Director of Prosecutions – to the extent that “state corruption was now rampant,” he said. Whistleblowers and political opponents were being assassinated, he added, citing the recent murder of a trade union shop steward who had exposed corruption in a municipal tender.

“How far has South Africa come along the road of democracy?” asked Mbeki. “Well, the old police state has been dismantled but we are now seeing signs of a new one.” He said there was evidence that the police shootings of 34 miners at Marikana near Rustenburg were “preplanned”.

However he said there was also a huge diversity of views within government and the ANC and many were unhappy with the corruption and ineptitude, especially at local government level. “The problem is that the weakened reformist wing, especially among the intelligentsia, has withdrawn.” But he said some trade unions were pulling away from the ANC and what he called the “rentier class” which has “created no new companies or jobs, just wealth for themselves”.

Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) leader Julius Malema was once part of an ANC reformist wing which wanted to see the implementation of the party's Freedom Charter, he said. “So the ANC expelled them and now they are creating mayhem and street theatre inside parliament.” The EFF nevertheless got more than one million votes in the last election – 6% of the electorate – showing that “there is room to the left of the ANC for more parties”.

Mbeki said that if it were up to him “the first law I would strike out would be BEE” (Black Economic Empowerment). He said he was not surprised that many whites felt there was no future for them, but added that many returning or remaining professionals were very supportive of emerging companies.

 “There are huge business opportunities,” said Mbeki in answering to a question. There are family businesses where the children have emigrated and the owners want to retire. You could come back and run one of these,” he told a young South Africa in the audience.

In response to a question about whether Cyril Ramaphosa would “take over after President Zuma', Mbeki said he thought it unlikely.

“He had a big constituency with the National Union of Mineworkers,” said Mbeki, who worked with him in the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the 1990s. However he blew his [political] capital, “Ramaphosa became too rich; and was a leading beneficiary of BEE”,

“Then there was that business with the buffalo (when Ramaphosa bid R19m at an auction), as well as Marikana.”

Mbeki said he did not know whether there was a link between police action and a company email sent by Ramaphosa. “But the perception is there. With someone who issued a fire order on striking workers, I don't think theANC would put him forward as President.”

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