The Shenanigans Behind Mbeki's Removal: Simphiwe Sesanti Goes Behind the Scenes to Thread Together the Events, Actions and Personalities That Led to Thabo Mbeki's Ousting as President of South Africa

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It is generally believed that Judge Chris Nicholson's ruling in Jacob Zuma's appeal to set aside charges against him, led to the ruling ANC asking Thabo Mbeki to step down as state president, seven months before his time. Addressing the nation via the SABC, the ANC's treasurer-general, Matthews Phosa, stressed that Judge Nicholson's ruling was only one of the factors. But answers given to the City Press, a South African weekly, by the ANC's secretary-general Gwede Mantashe were revealing: "The biggest worry for us is the question of the reversal of the possible closure of this chapter."


Mantashe made this statement following a decision by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) and the cabinet to appeal against Nicholson's ruling. In the ANC's view, articulated by Mantashe, the case "is not in the public or national interest. If the case is pursued, it will continue to be a point of division in the ANC. That's the main issue."


A deeper reading of history suggests that there is a belief in some ANC circles that attempts to unseat Mbeki came long before the Polokwane conference, and before Judge Nicholson's ruling.

Not long after Mbeki became state president, the South African weekly newspaper Mail & Guardian ran a story suggesting that Mbeki believed that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in activities that sought to undermine his rule. Mbeki strongly challenged the accuracy of these reports.

In his book, Thabo Mbeki--The Dream Deferred, Mark Gevisser revisits this issue and notes that some of "Mbeki's closest advisors actually believed that his life was at risk. It was not unusual, in the parallel universe that was the presidency between 2000 and 2002, to hear otherwise-reasonable people saying, in absolute seriousness, that the Americans might engineer 'regime change' to get rid of a president whose actions could cause the pharmaceutical industry to lose billions in a year."

In those days, Mbeki was calling for an open debate around contentions made by so-called orthodox and dissident scientists regarding Aids - its causes and effects. Gevisser states that in October 2000, Mbeki told the ANC parliamentary caucus that he was the target of a massive counter-intelligence campaign by "Big Pharma" because his questioning of certain assumptions about Aids was threatening Big Pharma's profit margins.

In 2001, the then minister of safety and security, the late Steve Tshwete, publicly declared that Phosa (first premier of Mpumalanga post-1994), Tokyo Sexwale (first premier of Gauteng) and Cyril Ramaphosa (who led the negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid government), were being investigated in connection with a plot to oust Mbeki.

The men were never arrested or brought to court. The case simply vanished. According to the October 2008 edition of the South African monthly magazine Leadership, it was the very same men (Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa) who "led the charge" for Mbeki's removal at a meeting a year ago that decided his fate. According to the City Pres, Sexwale stated: "We can't live another day with this man." Coincidence? There is much that suggests that Mbeki's removal was payback by those who felt stung by his power as both president of the country and of the ANC.

Phosa himself lent credence to this view when he stated that the allegations against him, Sexwale and Ramaphosa arose when the ANCs powerful National Executive Committee (NEC) reviewed Mbeki's presidency.

Hardly two weeks after the Polokwane conference, Billy Masethla, a member of the ANC's newly elected NEC, was reported to have told former ANC freedom fighters that if Mbeki failed to implement the Polokwane conference resolutions, he would be fired.

"We are going to be forced, with due respect to the cabinet, to get them to account. If they defy conference resolutions, we should have the conviction to recall them," Masethla was quoted as saying by the City Press. …


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