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Who sounds more plausible - Zuma or Mbeki?

By unknown | Sep 26, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Whenever politicians start calling each other crooks you can bet someone is going to get hurt.

Whenever politicians start calling each other crooks you can bet someone is going to get hurt.

Some cynics say that in politics crooks are a dime a dozen, an "un-crooked" politician being as rare as water in the Sahara Desert.

Other cynics, striving for a "balance" that is so paramount to good journalism, suggest there are, as in Formula One motor racing, the daredevils and the cautious plodders.

Richard Nixon painted himself into such a tight corner over Watergate he declared: "I am not a crook." Until then some people had not believed he was a crook.

He protested too much, thus persuading the "neutrals" to start re-evaluating the evidence.

Between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who sounds more plausible than the other in declaring: "I am not a crook?"

Let us for the moment comfort ourselves with the excuse that the jury is still out on that question.

What we can ventilate is the prospect of one of them sinking into political oblivion - or both of them salvaging a semblance of dignity not only for themselves but also for South Africa.

Make no mistake: the threat to the political and economic stability of South Africa hinges on how the two former comrades-in-arms resolve their tit-for-tat combat.

We all know how stubborn they are. Most war veterans of the Southern African liberation struggle are obsessed with an exaggerated machismo.

They will give up the fight only when they are left standing and their enemies are lying comatose.

There is often no room for compromise, which you would expect a man like Nelson Mandela to settle for, as he did in his one-on-one dialogue with FW de Klerk in the very early stages of the verbal skirmishes that ultimately led to the soft landing in 1994.

Both Mbeki and Zuma cannot escape culpability for the government's failure to deliver on its promises to the poor after that five-year period of stability and hope. Underlying their relationship was an unhealthy rivalry for power, probably dating back to their days in exile.

This seemingly unbridgeable chasm between them makes the need for a compromise candidate for the presidency not only logical but also imperative for the stability of the country.

In fact, South Africa needs to avoid the fatal mistakes Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola and Namibia made after independence.

Each country inherited a leadership from the struggle at independence and almost withoutexception they all plunged into civil strife, some more intensely than others.

In several instances many lives were needlessly lost.

After Zuma was forced to declare, as Nixon did, "I am not a crook!", his rivals for power just as robustly, declared he had to prove it.

Mbeki denied last week, in his resignation, he and his cabinet tried to interfere with the decision to prosecute Zuma on corruption charges.

In a way, he too was declaring, "I am not a crook!"

The new leader doesn't have to deny a crooked past. Mbeki and Zuma can remain influential ANC elder statesmen, but not powerful enough to dictate policies.

lBill Saidi is deputy editor at The Standard in Zimbabwe


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