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ISBN 9 781770 103412

There’s a lot of unanimity here: he owns a beautiful mind, possesses the enviable patience to listen and empathise, reads voraciously, loves jazz and photography, does not carry money, is an ardent pan-Africanist and a champion of women’s rights.

They throw these and more epithets on this man, each giving their take on The Thabo Mbeki I Know.

From around age 20 when he skipped the country until the fateful day in September 2008 when he was recalled from office, Thabo Mbeki had given his life to the ANC - rising in rank from Oliver Reginald Tambo’s speechwriter to being the custodian of the traditions of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.

There’s a common thread that runs through all the essays. The downside to the book - the only one - is that they were asked the same question/s and except a maverick here and there who threw out the script and ‘spoke’ from the heart, all of them follow a pattern.

A Facebook friend gripes that the book is a chorus of praise-singers. I beg to differ. Of course they were asked to confine themselves to the Thabo Mbeki they knew around his recall, Aids denialism, Zimbabwe and what else, but their offerings do not make for a litany of boredom.

The Facebook friend says the book leaves the reader little or no room to make up their own minds. I contend that it is only a boring book, which this is not, that can dogmatically channel a reader towards a certain viewpoint. A good book, which this is, allows the reader to form their own opinion.

This is a thinking man’s book.

Mavuso Msimang writes that Mbeki “shares no common space with foolishness”.

Those who branded him aloof were in awe of his sharp wit and mind, the essays converge to say.

Of course if you pose this set of questions to the matronly Brigalia Bam to write about a “child” she no doubt adores, the result would be her motherly sweetheart write-up.

There are men - and women - incapable of independent thought. Anthony Mbewu, a decorated medic and academic, strikes the reader as such.

For some reason only known to him, Mbewu feels duty-bound to continue singing for his supper.

Thami Ntenteni should have been one to kowtow to Mbeki, not Mbewu. But Ntenteni writes a cerebral argument against those who saw Mbeki as an ogre unworthy of high public office.

Ntenteni writes about how UCT academic, Professor Robert Schrire argued yonks after the I am an African speech that Mbeki hated the West but aspired to be an Englishman.

Ntenteni takes Schrire and his ilk of Mbeki detractors back to the speech, especially the line where the Pipe Smoking intellectual (Schrire contests Mbeki is no intellectual) said repetitively “, I know that none dare challenge me when I say … I am an African.”

Nowhere does Mbeki say “I am an Englishman”, Ntenteni’s polemic argues.

In their ostensible defence of Mbeki, many muddy the waters, especially over the causal link between HIV and Aids.

No one, except Mbeki’s own memoirs, will clear the air on the matter.

Same with his blunder to run for a third term in Polokwane. Only Mbeki can take us by the hand through this labyrinth of hara-kiri.

Each essay - from the buddy-buddy offerings of the Pahad brothers, long-time Mbeki allies, to the no-holds barred writing of Mavuso Msimang, the book offers a window into the soul of the man misunderstood to be an aloof thinker with no penchant for small talk.

Albie Sachs must have written his in anger, methinks.

Under normal circumstances Ben Turok is not afraid to speak his mind. Other than extol the virtues of Mbeli the orator, Turok had nothing to say. Sad.

This is a great book, not a compilation of praises by sycophants who are devoid of critical thought.

The biggest anti-climax about this book is that one had to finish reading it.


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