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Firestorm of dissent hits Mbeki's last term

By unknown | Nov 09, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Comment by Kingdom Mabuza

Comment by Kingdom Mabuza

Criticism of Thabo Mbeki's imperious presidency has been muted since he took over from Nelson Mandela in 1999, but a firestorm of dissent has erupted in the last year of his tenure.

Attacks on the prickly president by allies were unheard of eight years ago. Now his comrades are in open revolt as the ANC is about to choose new leaders.

Mbeki has faced a torrid time in his last year in office, which even he concedes.

"I think that there is a decline in my graph," he told a fund-raising dinner of the SACP in Kempton Park last year. "At the best level I was described as being intolerant and then a bit later [as] a dictator, and that too was a drop in the popularity graph.

"More recently I am told I am a totalitarian, really going down . I am bound to reach the point where I am called a fascist."

Mbeki has been increasingly isolated and few within the ANC have risen to defend him.

His utterances at the dinner were spurred by relentless attacks from Cosatu and the SACP who claim that he is intolerant, a dictator and a totalitarian. So it came as no surprise when Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi continued the onslaught. He has accused Mbeki's government of creating conditions that are inimical to workers' interests.

Sipho Seepe, a consistent critic of the president almost from the beginning when dissent was considered sacrilegious, agrees with Vavi that conditions for workers under apartheid were better than under the present government.

Seepe was careful to emphasise that Vavi's comment should not be interpreted to mean that apartheid was better.

"He is correct that under apartheid conditions were better [for workers]."

Seepe said workers enjoy better protection today than they did under apartheid, but this means little because of huge job losses and high rates of unemployment.

"The reality on the ground is that people are jobless because of today's conditions," said Seepe.

He said the education and health systems had collapsed under the ANC government and would take years to be restored to their previous levels.

"Previously, children who graduated from high school were better-prepared, and the rate of HIV infection is higher than what it was under apartheid conditions," he said.

Vavi warns that the alliance will be torn apart if Mbeki is re-elected in December.

Columnist Justice Malala warns that tension will rise in the days leading to the conference.

Malala says that if Mbeki is re-elected as ANC president, a new battle will erupt over who becomes the country's next president when his final term ends.

This week the SACP wrote a letter to ANC members challenging them to change the party's leadership: "We cannot go on like this; let's make things change."

Seems like the weeks ahead will be even more furiously strident than the weeks just past.


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