Thabo Mbekihas been working all his life and deserves a break

Justice Malala

Justice Malala

President Thabo Mbeki today begins the process of normalising his life after he was ousted as party president in Polokwane this week.

Mbeki became deputy president to Nelson Mandela in 1994, and in 1999 ascended to the presidency of the country. This means that for 13 years, Mbeki has not tasted normal South African life.

A Mbeki adviser recently said one of the problems with the president is that he has not actually had to handle cash or buy something across a counter for a long time.

"Everything, from groceries to clothes, is handled by staff members. He does not know what it is like to buy petrol. He has become practically and emotionally disconnected from his own people," he said.

In his excellent biography of Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki:The Dream Deferred,the writer Mark Gevisser writes about how Mbeki felt disconnected from his family and his roots. This disconnectedness is something that many have commented on.

For example, Mbeki once, astonishingly, told the Washington Post reporters that he honestly did not know anyone who had died of Aids. In a country where 5,5million people are HIV-positive, and 1000 die of Aids a day, it is a rarity to find someone who has not been touched by Aids in this way.

Mbeki's duties will be reduced significantly. There will not be gruelling weekly national working committee meetings Mbeki had to chair as president of the ANC every Monday and which he has attended since 1991.

Mbeki will from today have a lot of free time on his hands.

In 18 months, Mbeki will also be freed from the demands of his presidential office. This might happen sooner if the ANC decides to recall him and call an early election to give Zuma a mandate to lead the country.

The creature comforts are in place. Mbeki will move into the R22million retirement mansion in Houghton, built for him by his wife, Zanele.

According to the constructors, it is a three-bedroomed house. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. The house also has a lounge and entertainment area, a dining room, a kitchen fitted with melamine cupboards and granite tops and servants' quarters. Importantly, the house has a study meant specifically for Mbeki to work in.

So what should Mbeki do now?

Before he uses the study, he should travel through the country for a bit and meet the people. He should go to funerals at Avalon Cemetery and see just how many of our people are dying of Aids. In doing this, Mbeki really has a chance to again meet ordinary people who might open his eyes to some of the challenges they face.

Mbeki is an amazing writer and he must use the free time he has - given that he does not have to write speeches and his column on the ANC website - to give us what will without doubt be a towering work of fiction or non-fiction.

This poetry lover's literary prowess is well-known: the I am an African speech is an example, as is his Nelson Mandela lecture delivered in 2006. There are many other examples of his enviable talent in this regard.

Mbeki will be inundated with requests to sit on the boards of companies. He will make a nice living from this, but he should not let it dominate his time.

The gift that Mbeki has given Africa are his perspectives on its development. He will not have the power of office he has now, but he can continue to bring his considerable skill to bear in this area.

He should not take an ambassadorship, but a role that will see him guiding and providing important input to the rest of the continent.

Mbeki has been fighting the good fight for liberation all his life. He should step back, take a break and enjoy life a bit. He deserves it. He should forget about what his successor is doing and not worry if some of his initiatives are reversed. There are many who will fight that fight for him.

He should try to be happy. He fully deserves it. Despite his many faults and mistakes, and his attempt to cling to power, he has been a great freedom fighter and president.