Zim, Aids were Mbeki's biggest achievements, says academic

Johannesburg - Zimbabwe was “arguably one of Thabo Mbeki’s great successes”, together with the HIV/Aids campaign, Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani has written in a new book about the former president.

“Zimbabwe was the great NO, no to regime change, no to external dictation. It was at the same time a great YES, yes to reform as the alternative to punishment, yes to regionalism as a way to stem the tide of growing external interference,” Mamdani writes in the foreword of his book The Thabo Mbeki I Know.

It was recently published with the help of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

In the book, former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad argues that “Western powers, in particular Britain, and big capital in South Africa” wanted a regime change. His brother, former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad, argues that South Africa would have been next had these powers succeeded in Zimbabwe.

Mamdani wrote it was possibly in Zimbabwe that Western powers fine-tuned an alternative strategy for regime change. They intended to link up with domestic forces in a pincer movement that would take full advantage of an internal crisis.

This would have called for building a grand coalition of three different oppositions: one within the regime, the second outside it, and the third within civil society.

Silent diplomacy

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change was principally sponsored by Britain, according to a piece by former ambassador Welile Nhlapo.

“Mbeki’s response to regime change was to promote internal reform, in particular that of the electoral and governmental system, and to build a regional consensus behind it,” Mamdani wrote.

“The irony of his resolute stance was that though Mbeki succeeded in making Zimbabwe safe from regime change, he was unable to inoculate South Africa from that same fate.”

Mamdani said South Africa’s Zimbabwe policy was born from internal experience, which included a negotiated outcome, reconciliation, but also internal reform.

Mamdani said foreign policy changed with Mbeki’s departure.

He used the United Nations and “two regime change initiatives” – in Iraq and Libya – as an example.

“During Mbeki’s time, South Africa rallied African opposition to a unilateral US intervention in Iraq; under Zuma’s leadership, South Africa buckled under US pressure and in spite of an AU resolution to the contrary, supported intervention in Libya.

Mamdani said Mbeki’s hosting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after being deposed in an “America-sanctioned operation” as Haitian president, was another of his foreign policy initiatives.

Mbeki was severely criticised by opposition parties in his own country as well as by some within the ANC itself for his "silent diplomacy" approach towards Zimbabwe. His granting of asylum to Aristide was also controversial.


On HIV/Aids, Mamdani said Mbeki furthered “certain objectives” which he was convinced were in the “larger public interest”. These included keeping the debate open and pursuing the search for an affordable drug.

He said Mbeki doubtlessly believed “that the argument that disassociated the spread of the disease from its context – the abject poverty of large sections of the black population – was an incitement to a racist anti-black discourse”.

He said Mbeki’s government took on pharmaceutical companies to get access to generic drugs, and to debate “co-factors”, looking at prevention as well.

The book would be released in Johannesburg on Friday. It contains contributions from family friends, former African leaders, former ministers, South African ambassadors, acquaintances, comrades, support staff, and media.