In September 20, 2008, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, took the unprecedented step of dismissing Thabo Mbeki, the country’s then president from his position. The move marked the climax of a bitter internal struggle within the party.
In Eight Days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki (published in 2012 by Picador), author Frank Chikane describes the circumstances that led to this historical event. It all started with a court ruling in September 2008 by Judge Chris Nicholson to the effect that there was political interference (allegedly by Mbeki) in the prosecution of his then vice president Jacob Zuma for fraud and corruption.
Those inside the ruling African National Congress (ANC) who still had an axe to grind with the man they had earlier unseated at the 2007 elective conference just over eight months before, saw this as the perfect opportunity to conclude the Polokwane Project. Thabo Mbeki was no longer in the party hot-seat; he now – at that instant, had to go as President of the Republic as well.
Days after the Nicholson judgment the party bigwigs were meeting in Kempton Park and a decision was arrived at to recall Mbeki as president of the country. Constitutional considerations were thrown out the window as, by hook or crook, in the words of Julius Malema, there was a particular Monday where the country had to wake up with Mbeki no longer at the helm.
Exactly eight days after the Nicholson judgment, the National Executive Council of the ANC issued a statement that began by saying how the party think-tank had deliberated over the Pietermaritzburg judgment.
“In particular, we have focused on the implications of the judgment for our movement, and for our people as a whole. The judgment has had a profound impact on many aspects of our legal system. It has obviously also had an impact on the affairs of the ANC.
We wish to assert to you that our most important task as a revolutionary movement is the stability of our country and the unity and cohesion of the ANC. Our movement has been through a trying period and determined to heal the rifts that may exist.
In the light of this, and after a long and difficult discussion, the ANC has decided to recall the President of the Republic before his term of office expires. Our decision has been communicated to him.”
Graciously accepting the decision of the party he said he’d served loyally for 52 years, Mbeki addressed the nation the following day. In his address, he said of the Nicholson judgment:
“…I would like to restate the position of Cabinet on the inferences made by the Honorable Judge Chris Nicholson that the president and Cabinet have interfered in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Again I would like to state this categorically that we have never done this, and therefore never compromised the right of the National Prosecuting Authority to decide whom it wished to prosecute or not to prosecute.
This applies equally to the painful matter relating to the court proceedings against the President of the ANC, Comrade Jacob Zuma. More generally, I would like to assure the nation that our successive governments since 1994 have never acted in any manner intended willfully to violate the Constitution and the law.”
By the time the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) would sit to dismiss the Nicholson judgment as having no legal basis, having concerned itself with extraneous matter that were, at best, the personal views of the Judge, it was too late – Mbeki was out.
Those opposed to Mbeki’s aloofness and high brow intellect had won the day. He was no longer in charge. The ANC was way in too deep to acknowledge its mistake and reverse the decision to kick the President out seven months before the end of his second and last term.
In the book, Chikane laments this and the fact that it was unconstitutional to remove Mbeki the way it was done.
But despite achieving sell-out status, Chikane’s book is, by no means a masterpiece and the main reason it has done so well is simply that it reveals hard truths none of ANC’s cadres has dared to talk about before.
Chikane loses the plot very early in the book with one-too many quotes from the Zuma trial. When this gets tiresome, he generously repeats Mbeki’s exit speech and goodbye letter to Cabinet. And when the Good Reverend finds that this too is not enough to make a fairly-sized book, he adds, almost obsequiously, a little biography of Mbeki and his legacy.
But in the company of Comrade Yes-men who’d rather safeguard their jobs than speak truth to power, Chikane should be commended for his bravery, however career limiting.
© makatilemedia 04/2012