I’m nearly at the end of Mark Gevisser’s biography of Thabo Mbeki, A Dream Deferred, and ready to make a reassessment. It is a great book, and should be read by all South Africans. And anyone in the world who sincerely wants to understand South Africa.
The section on the build up to the negotiations, all through to the elections in 94, is as gripping as a great political thriller.
Gevisser argues convincingly that it was Mr Mbeki more than anyone else, even Nelson Mandela, or Cyril Ramaphosa, who brought disparate South Africans together at the negotiating table. He might have sometimes dangled carrots that were later removed uneaten, but he did the work. He saved our bacon, and he deserved to be the New South Africa’s second president.
But then there is his response to Aids. One has to come to the conclusion that, on his issue, Mr Mbeki has tragically internalized his oppression. Unable to follow the scientific facts: HIV causes Aids; Aids is becoming a big problem in the African heterosexual community; therefore we, as South Africans owe it to ourselves to examine and change our sexual behaviour, he chose to believe that the thing was a racist, capitalist plot. People were dying not of Aids, but of the secondary diseases. Either because they were poor, or because they had become too rich too quickly and were undone by a decadence which injured their immunity. When he said that he knew no one who had died of aids, he wasn’t lying. He really believed, and still does, that his friends had been killed by ARVs.
The sad truth is that Mr Mbeki is a great man with a tragic flaw. And that tragic flaw has been not dissimilar in it’s effects to the prophecies which led to great cattle killing. Mr Mbeki, if he had not been stopped by his party, would have had us believing in the Dreams of Nongqawuse all over again.