Do we expect Mbeki to explain his lack of interest in Zuma?

If there is anyone who dominated the news headlines over the weekend, it must be former president Jacob Zuma. He was the talk of the town in Durban where the ANC was hosting its annual January 8thbirthday celebrations.

Truth be told, it is difficult for Mandela’s nation to let go of Jacob Zuma. The former president loves every inch of attention he gets so much that he even joined Twitter. It seems the trolls just give him a sense of purpose since he is no longer president. He thrives on being talked about. 

There are two types of people in South Africa. There are those who love Zuma unconditionally. Those are the people who believe that state capture is a fairy tale told to those who blindly believe whatever comes from the media.

Then there is the group that believes that he is responsible for everything wrong in this country. Those are the people who wouldn’t get caught anywhere near the man because they believe they will most likely catch the corruption virus that is believed to have invaded Jacob Zuma as a willing host.  

It is almost impossible to find people who are just not interested in Zuma. If you raise your hand in a debate and say you have no interest in him, you will be compelled to justify why. You will end up being drawn into a conversation anyway.

In this picture, I wonder to which group former president Thabo Mbeki belongs. Is Mbeki a Zuma hater? One thing I am certain about is that he does not admire Zuma. However, that does not mean he hates the man so much that he would not share a platform with him.

It was reported over the weekend that Mbeki is “stalling” the establishment of the council of elders, proposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, simply because Zuma is said to be involved.

The story is that Mbeki is backtracking from joining the said council after learning that Zuma will also be contributing his tried and tested wisdom to the same council. It’s a mystery to me how Zuma will find time to serve on the council while tweeting, going to court, attending ANC NEC meetings religiously, recording a CD, playing soccer with kids, campaigning for ANC in KZN and spending time with his family. That’s a story for another day.

Another question I will interrogate some other day is why Ramaphosa insists on forming a new task team on a weekly basis. He will soon run out of people and retired judges to serve in those task teams. Mbeki probably realises that the task teams are just too many to be meaningful, or he is intimidated by Zuma’s incredible intellectual grasp of all matters policy.

Whatever the reasons might be behind Mbeki’s alleged stalling of the council, the reality is that the former president is now expected to explain why he won’t serve with Zuma. But suppose he has no interest in Zuma at this point, does he still have to explain how uninterested he is? It could be that Mbeki does not hate Zuma, nor does he admire him. Therefore, why should he be compelled to explain himself further? If you have no interest in someone, hating them is also a demanding task of having to justify why.

What further fuels speculations that Mbeki can’t stand Zuma is the fact that the former also did not attend the ANC conference because of other commitments. In relation to this matter, there are those who believe Mbeki needs to explain himself, and perhaps even disclose what he was up to on the day the ANC was having its 107 years celebration. What if the ANC’s January 8th celebrations clashed with Mbeki’s prearranged bird watching trip? Does that mean Mbeki has an obligation to explain why bird watching is a more soul uplifting exercise than being in a stadium where Zuma receives a standing ovation?

The problem with this issue is not about Mbeki snubbing the ANC; it is rather about those who decided to form a council of elders that involves Zuma. This has created a situation where those who might have lost any interest in Zuma are being pushed to renew their interest in the man.

Mbeki has a right not to be interested in things or activities, including a council on which Zuma or the pope serves. Even more important, he does not owe anyone an explanation as to why he is not interested. The fact that Zuma has the energy to serve in all structures in the country, does not mean that Mbeki should develop similar interests.

When I’m not interested in something, that also means that I have a right not to explain my lack of interest because explaining myself in this regard will draw me into an uninteresting conversation simply because others are interested. The only thing worse than compelling Mbeki to sit around a table with Zuma is to insist on him explaining why he isn’t interested in that. That’s the road to serfdom.   

– Ralph Mathekga is a senior researcher at UWC’s Centre for Humanities Research, and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa’s Turn.

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