“I am an African!” Arguably the greatest speech ever written by a post-apartheid president: Thabo Mbeki. Yet, during his tenure he became one of the most criticised presidents the country has ever had. He was perceived as being everything from aloof, to paranoid, to ignoring differing opinion to being autocratic. All which we thought were the most terrible characteristics to have of a president, until we had a president that wiped off half a billion rand in the economy in pretty much one day. Although there has always been a general consensus that Thabo Mbeki is highly intelligent and perhaps there was method in the madness in which he led the country, he is still the only South African president to be recalled before his term was complete. It is said that hindsight is /, it’s pretty much the same with Thabo Mbeki regarded as terrible during his tenure but in hindsight probably the best president we have ever had. And just in case we think our hindsight needs any correction, Thabo Mbeki has taken it upon himself to correct some points in history by writing letters.
On the first of what appears to be a series of letters that Thabo Mbeki wrote, he quotes Winston Churchill and writes “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. Then he goes on to explain that where his actions and intentions were misunderstood and were incorrectly recorded in history, he will go back and correct these through his writing. At its worst, it sounds to me like a leader saying that if their deeds do not leave the legacy they want left behind, then they will re-write the legacy they wanted to leave behind into history books themselves.

Click here to read the actual letters.
Thabo Mbeki has written two letters so far, the first explaining what was happening when the conspiracy theories of plans to do great harm to him as the president of the country were swirling around. It’s actually a great letter, all the events therein make perfect sense. The second seeks to address the manner in which he ran the National Executive Committee of the ANC and explains how it was not an autocratic style and did not try to silence people. It is also a good letter, makes sense and makes one react with an “Oh, I understand now” kind of nod.
Thabo Mbeki has still not explained the way in which the media portrayed him regarding how he handled HIV and AIDS in South Africa. I purposefully say perceived, because it has always felt like that is central to his arguments. From comments on his post and media, that is one of the matters everyone is looking forward to having addressed through his letters. That, as well the arm’s deal issue a topic for another day. The media has painted squarely blamed Thabo Mbeki and his administration for the deaths of an estimated 33 (according to media reports) because of his policies on the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. I suspect that the explanation will go something along the lines of “We needed to be certain that the HIV virus is not the only virus that causes the AIDS syndrome, we could not rush to distribute the ARVs before fully understood, and above all – it was not a sole decision, so I can’t be solely to blame for this”.

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
But after reading all of these letters, what now? I said it before, Thabo Mbeki is certainly one of the best presidents we have ever had (not there are plenty to choose from). He definitely had his flaws. But it does seem a little misplaced for him to explain himself. It is not quite clear what the desired outcome of that is. Perhaps it is to be better understood, but then what? A part of these letters feels like they are highlighting what he was not so good at during reign – staying in touch with people. The things he is explaining now are the things we needed explanations to then. What relevance is it now?
The Matcentric
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thoughts on “The Relevance of Thabo Mbeki Letters”
Karabo Lebeloe says:
The letters make for a great read, that has been established. You do ask a good question though. What is the end game? Why now?
Perhaps now that he is no longer the most hated man in the country he might feel we are prepared to listen to his side of the tale. Remember that at the time he forced to fall on his sword we as a public lead by the media were intoxicated with the chanting and singing by the Zuma/Malema camps to actually hear reason.
Now that the tables are turned, he wants to vindicate himself and rewrite his legacy. It’s almost as if he had been waiting for this moment since the day he bowed out. Sort of a checkmate if you will.
He never planned to go quietly into the night after all.
JoPro Blog says:
Thank you for taking some time to read our blog. You raise a good point, perhaps now that we have had some time away from Thabo Mbeki, we may have better perspective and be willing to listen more. The question still remains though we listen to him and then what? One thing is for sure though, he is definitely not going quietly into the night.
I think it only fair a man of his stature doesn’t go unnoticed, that him being such a visionary and great leader shouldn’t go to waste. He was unfairly treated, and the crassness of it still leaves us wanting more of him, I have often realise how religion played a role. Hoping he would lead Africa as a united front, the same way Europe allied themselves as an economy. As conflict is, as a whole, Africa’s biggest problem. Let him lead us all as a united front, so our economies may be taken full advantage of and so we may have peace and heal. I would like to see the African Renaissance take its full course.
JoPro Blog says:
Thank you for reading the article! You are right, Thabo Mbeki was and probably still is a visionary leader. But would his efforts not be better utilised if they were spent on influencing our current state of affairs instead of going back to fix how he is being perceived?
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