17/07/2017 06:27 SAST | Updated 17/07/2017 09:05 SAST

The Polokwane Pirates Were Wrong About Zuma But Are Right About Mbeki

The Polokwane Pirates were so fed up with Mbeki that they even settled on throwing their lot behind a clearly compromised candidate in Jacob Zuma.

Sphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (R) pose with former president Thabo Mbeki during the lighting up ceremony of the centenary torch ahead of the upcoming African National Congress (ANC) centenary celebration in Bloemfontein January 8, 2012.

The Polokwane Pirates as famously depicted by Zapiro, were at the forefront of the campaign to remove Mbeki, a president they felt was aloof, was complacent in the death of millions due to his aids denialism, had adopted Neo-liberal Macro economic policies premised on trickle down economics, a president that had presided over jobless economic growth and a president that was so invested in his self crafted image as an intellectual that he stubbornly refused to turn around the ship that was on course to make South Africa an unequal country on the face of the planet.

The Polokwane Pirates were so fed up with Mbeki that they even settled on throwing their lot behind a clearly compromised candidate in Jacob Zuma, one assumes they naively thought they could rehabilitate and then control Zuma.

Zuma was thought to be the opposite of Mbeki, he was the people's person, he had no pretensions of intellectual pursuits nor did he have a taste for an old country aristocratic pampered existence of pipe and poetry. Zuma was warm and gentle without the cold stoicism that Sussex might have suggested to its students were the hallmark of the "Thinker". He was viewed as a simple rural man who loved the simple pleasures in life, family and community were at the core of his existence. The humble man of the people from Nkandla won many over with his permanent smile and propensity to share a laugh and most importantly to lend an ear and to be amenable to advice, many frustrated by the dismissive and intellectual bullying from Mbeki always found a sympathetic ear in uMsholozi.

They concluded that Mbeki was a bad president and should go, inversely on Zuma they concluded he would make a good president because he was warm, accessible, was a man of the people, he had empathy for the poor and listened to advice. They were so wrong on Zuma on many counts, he did not have as humble a taste as they had presumed, this is evidenced by the vanity project that is his Nkandla home, he was not as ruralitarian as they had thought, considering his eagerness to obtain residency in the glittering metropolis that is Dubai.

Zuma was also not as accessible as they had initially thought, ask Vavi about the four days he and Blade had to wait to have an audience with Zuma, even though they had traveled with him to Equatorial Guinea, furthermore Zuma proved that he could not be rehabilitated as they had hoped, instead he went from trying to steal R500,000 from Thomson-CSF to the current grand scheme to steal R1 Trillion through the nuclear build, they were also disabused of their beliefs that Zuma was a pro-poor, he has proved to have scant regard for the common man as evidenced by his lack of action on the SASSA debacle, last and most importantly they were wrong to think Zuma could be controlled, at least not by them.

He is running the country from Saxonwold, he doesn't consult them, let alone even take their advice. So on many fronts, the Polokwane Pirates were wrong about Zuma. However that doesn't mean they were in retrospect wrong about Mbeki, in a world of binary existence and the desire to see things dichotomously, it's easy to make the mistake of thinking if you were wrong about Zuma, you the revise your position on Mbeki as well, a sort of Mutatis Mutandis logical progression.

If now is the time to tell hard truths then say we were wrong on Zuma but we were not wrong on Mbeki.

The reality is that this is a false dichotomy, the two are not mutually exclusive, they may have been and indeed were wrong on Zuma but still have been right about Mbeki. In fact, recent developments reinforce this view, of all the things they pointed out to have been wrong with the Mbeki presidency, none have been atoned for by the former president. To the extreme contrary the man still publicly defends his AIDS denialism using a combination of chutzpah, debunked scientific adventurism and high sounding phrases, he wanted to discuss the epistemological relationship between the term HIV and the term AIDS, while he "thought" millions died.

Mbeki still lacks the capacity for introspective discourse, he still sees himself as perpetually correct on all and any facts and everyone else is perpetually wrong. Mbeki still defends his macroeconomic policies not withstanding that they made South Africa the most unequal society in the world and delivered jobless growth. They said Mbeki had desires to rule forever, which I assume they meant he wanted to rule beyond the constitutionally enshrined two five year terms limit, then on this count they were right also right, Mbeki contested a 3rd five year term as ANC president, thereby giving him control over the governing ANC deployment to Parliament and to the Union buildings and indirectly extending his control over government.

It may be an easy way out to suddenly become revisionist and become ahistorical in their quest to deal with the bitter disappointment of the unmitigated disaster that is the unstoppable Zunami but one must caution the Pirates of Polokwane not to engage in fantasist nostalgia and end up romanticizing the deeply problematic Mbeki presidency and the flawed character that is President Mbeki. If now is the time to tell hard truths then say we were wrong on Zuma but we were not wrong on Mbeki.