Lucky Mathebe Addresses Issues Surrounding Leadership in Post-apartheid South Africa
Mandela and Mbeki: The Hero and the Outsider is a comparison of the leadership styles of two of South Africa’s former presidents – “The Hero” Nelson Mandela and “The Outsider” Thabo Mbeki. While the book assesses what may be regarded as their respective successes and failures, author Lucky Mathebe argues that it is “far more than a comparative study”.
According to Mathebe, speaking at a Centre for Conflict Resolution Public Dialogue at Idasa last week, Mandela and Mbeki is, more broadly, a social history which examines “assumptions of structure and agency” and focuses on the unique contexts in which Mandela and Mbeki ruled.
A question central to the debate was whether these presidents had to have “historical moments” to bring their expertise to the forefront. According to Mathebe, the book was born out of “the genuine wish to explain the historical context in which Mandela was centred”. The discussion, chaired by John Akokpari, convenor of the International Relations Programme at the University of Cape Town, explored their differing leadership images, philosophical ideologies and the leaderships they embodied.
Mathebe began his talk with a great deal of trepidation, defining his territory of study as “highly contentious subject matter” and an area which he could “not proclaim to be an expert about”. He charted the romantised myth of Mandela’s heroic presidency over two phases, beginning with the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe and Mandela’s speech before the Treason Trial where “he embodied the struggle for dignity and liberation rhetoric.” Mathebe described the second phases as Mandela’s release from prison, where he emerged as a negotiator, peace-maker and hero and came to be regarded as “a peace-maker negotiating with leaders of other liberation movements”.
In contrast, Mathebe defined Mbeki’s leadership stance as a mixture of “tough pragmatism”, as evidenced by his economic decisions, combined with “tough nationalist” ideologies. He compared Mbeki to The Godfather in order to illustrate how he rose “from the status as a new patriarch, seeking to build a perfect world.” Being forced like his father to carry on in his footsteps in the hope of building the perfect world; unable however, to measure to this because times had changed.
Mngxitama followed Mathebe with a passionate talk, during which he complimented Mandela and Mbeki for not being “a usual academic book” but rather “layered and postmodern”. He argued that Mbeki was a “case study of the structural cowardice of post-colonial elite” and can be viewed as a revolutionary who “failed to continue once in power”. Mngxitama also stressed the need to understand the problems faced by Mbeki in the context of the “drama of managing the new apartheid”, where he abandoned “the revolutionary project and accepted the status of manager of neo-apartheid project”.
Mathebe concluded the discussion by emphasising that Mandela and Mbeki is “not a definite judgement”, but rather one to be used as a backdrop for South African history. Similarly, the debate did not represent a moral judgement but rather a reflection on varying leadership styles within contending models of the post-apartheid state.
- Mandela and Mbeki: The Hero and the Outsider by Lucky Mathebe