Allegations of plots against the President of any country are serious. Any self-respecting democrat and South African would expect it to be thoroughly investigated. The latest revelations by President Mbeki and Minister Tshwete about an alleged conspiracy against the leadership of President Mbeki seem to fall in an entirely different category. That of slandering and intimidating perceived political opponents. By abusing the resources of the state and its access to the media, they are launching exactly the type of personal unsubstantiated attacks that they are accusing other people of committing against President Mbeki.

That irony aside, there remain a number of disturbing matters which Mbeki and Tshwete in their zeal seem unwilling or unable to recognise.

Firstly, there is the matter of blurring the line between party and state. With each embarrassment that Mbeki suffers, a further step is taken towards totalitarianism, such as the so-called “early warning system” created in the Presidency, which usurps the role of intelligence agencies. Now, it is announced that a special police unit will look into a matter, which appears to be either complete rumour or simply a legitimate democratic internal challenge to Mbeki. The President does already have a full-time special police unit looking after his safety. Is this new police investigating team the new palace guard?

Secondly, the above is compounded by an increasingly paranoid President. This is a worrying sign, since other historical examples of paranoid leaders of state abound, and all of them did their countries a huge disservice. All such leaders are the authors of their own downfall, and as they notice this impending downfall they become even more erratic and convinced of plots and conspiracies. P.W. Botha comes to mind.

Thirdly, the speed and amount of state response to this alleged plot has been astounding. It is simply mind-boggling that two years of serious allegations about the multi-billion rand arms deal have been avoided, delayed and questioned by government on the grounds that it is simply rumours. The moment that rumours of a plot (if real, probably legitimate and not life-threatening) against Mbeki surface, we see this immediate response. What are the true priorities of Mbeki and his government?

Lastly, the UDM is concerned by the effect that this issue will have on investor-confidence and the economy. Mbeki and his supporters have broadcasted, unsolicited, these allegations across the world. Who will invest in a country where the President sees conspiracies under every bush and target businessmen as the enemy? In the past, when the harsh facts were merely pointed out the government was always quick to blame the opposition, minorities and the media for creating negative perceptions about South Africa based on false rumours. Ironically, this could be the first case where unsubstantiated claims directly hurt the economy of the country.

It seems that Mbeki, having realised that he can’t blame only the usual suspects (the opposition, minorities and the media) for all his woes, has created bogeymen, in the shape of old political opponents, to connect all his conspiracies together.

Bantu Holomisa, MP
UDM President

25 April 2001