Thabo Mbeki was removed from power by the ANC’s National Executive Committee packed with Zuma sympathisers.- Photo by

By Edward Tsumele

Journalist and author Mark Gevisser has released the updated version of his critically acclaimed book, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, a biography of former President Thabo Mbeki.
In the two added new chapters, the book asks difficult questions about the complexity surrounding Mbeki’s presidency, which was cut short when he was removed from the seat of power unceremoniously when the ANC conference in Polokwane voted Jacob Zuma as its new president.
Mbeki was removed from power by his ANC colleagues at the time with its National Executive Committee was packed with Zuma sympathisers.
After being removed from power, Mbeki led a relatively quiet political life, preferring to spend time building his legacy out of politics through the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.
He was also active in academic engagement through the Thabo Mbeki Institute at Unisa.
Conversely, after Zuma’s removal from power in 2018, to pave the way for President Cyril Ramaphosa, ironically in the same way that his predecessor was unceremoniously removed, Mbeki’s interest in the ANC was renewed.
In fact, he become busy as part of the leadership within the ANC that is trying to rebuild the image of the party and ensure its future as a governing party after it was battered by years of State capture debacle and other incidents of corruption.
Gevisser’s updated book comes out in the context of these developments within the ANC, with some critics predicting that the former liberation party’s traditional victory since 1994 of 50% or more at the forthcoming election in 2024 is not guaranteed in light of several allegations and cases of corruption against some of its leaders and those it deployed in the public sector as well as the continuing factional politics within the party.
The updated version also comes at a time when the squabbles within the ANC are so divisive that its membership votes into positions of power comrades who are facing serious charges – ranging from murder to corruption.
So, this book could not have come at a better time. But what do the added chapter say?
Was the ANC ‘captured’ by corrupt outsiders who ejected Mbeki from power and destroyed his legacy? Or is Mbeki himself an author of the misfortune that befell South Africa following his dismissal: not just by facilitating Zuma’s rise to power, but presiding over an earlier era of patronage and putting into place a particular set of policies and practices that set the scene for what would follow?
On 18 June, Mbeki turns 80. With an incisive new introduction and epilogue, Gevisser brings this prize-winning biography fully up to date. He sees Mbeki’s spectacular fall from office as a consequence of the “disconnect” that has characterised his entire life.
He also charts the “redemptive fifth act” of Mbeki’s public life, starting with the moment he was cheered at Nelson Mandela’s funeral at the same time that Zuma was booed in 2013.
Always a polarising figure, Mbeki remains championed by many South Africans who are nostalgic about his leadership: Gevisser examines why.
“What happens to a dream deferred?” Mbeki often asks, paraphrasing one of his favourite poems by Langston Hughes.
After his 2008 ousting, Mbeki’s dreams seemed shattered. In telling the story of one of South Africa’s most compelling, perplexing and powerful figures, as well as the extraordinary family from which he comes, Gevisser has given us one of the finest narratives ever written about South Africa’s conflict-ridden past, its transition to democracy and current difficulties.
The book has been hailed by influential readers internationally since it was first published.
“Probably the finest piece of non-fiction to come out of South Africa since the end of apartheid,” wrote Martin Plaut, Times Literary Supplement.
“Essential reading for anyone intrigued by South Africa’s complex philosopher-king,” wrote
The Economist. –

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