Yesterday’s resignation of our President, Thabo Mbeki, was not unexpected by many, but was still stunning. Some thoughts:

President Mbeki’s forced resignation is a terrible precedent, if as it appears, it was decided because of Judge Nicholson’s decision in Pietermaritzburg, on September 12th.

In the judge’s decision, he stated that ANC President Jacob Zuma’s claims of political interference were plausible. He did not decide that President Mbeki, had interfered in Mr. Zuma’s prosecution. While Mr. Zuma’s prosecution was flawed, probably fatally so ever since former head of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka’s infamous “prima facie case” comments to the media.

This is important because such important decisions should be based on facts.

That being said, there is still an argument to be made, that President Mbeki left himself vulnerable to inferences made in judicial decisions, by releasing Jacob Zuma from his duties as deputy president, as a result of Judge Squire’s statement in a 2005 decision, that Mr. Zuma was part of a “generally corrupt relationship”, with Schabir Schaik.

I would disagree with that argument. The deputy president serves at the pleasure of the president, and if the president feels that developments surrounding a particular member of his government would constitute an unacceptable distraction, or in another way meaningfully compromise the integrity of an office or its esteem, he would be justified in replacing that person. It is not to say a person is guilty, as this can only be determined in a court of law, but it is to say that the interests of the people must be prioritized.

Many would use some version of this argument to justify the ANC’s decision to recall Thabo Mbeki. This is not unreasonable.

I would say, however, that the removal of a state president is a substantively different matter than the removal of a deputy president.

To remove a president under a cloud of conspiracy, based on unproven inferences of executive and legal misconduct, takes the nation down a dangerous path. The esteem in which the the institution of the presidency of South Africa is held internationally, and most importantly domestically, is jeopardized. Ordinary citizens will now have cause to distrust the Presidency, who ever holds the position, based on claims of conspiracy that have not been tested in a court of law, or by state inquiry.

To do this only months before the sitting president is due to complete his final term in office, leads one to believe that the paramount consideration in this decision, was to find a political solution to Jacob Zuma’s legal battle. I believe this is the only reasonable conclusion to draw.

So I believe this is a terrible precedent, as the ANC has put the party- and the careers of individuals within the party- before the country.

I am tempted to view as a positive precedent, a sitting African president accepting recall, and tendering his resignation. However, this is an illusion. He is not being recalled by the people of South Africa. He is being recalled by his party, who do not appear to be representing the national interest.

As I said in last week’s column, I do not have any respect for those who found their democratic voice against Mbeki, only after his star was on the wane, and his successor as leader of the party, Jacob Zuma, was in the ascendancy.

It is a difficult thing to judge a president. One could make a strong argument that Thabo Mbeki was a bad president. One could make a strong argument that he was a good president. Many have made the first argument, I suspect one could also convincingly argue the latter.

What we must do, is learn lessons from the negatives of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, so as not to repeat those mistake. We must also remember, note, and celebrate the positives of his presidency. We must give credit where it is due. His success was and is, South Africa’s success. His failures were and are, South Africa’s failure.


We get the leaders we deserve.