February 11, 2005

After polarization Mbeki seeks to placate whites and the Left

In a generally well received state of the nation speech to parliament last week President Thabo Mbeki appeared intent on assuaging the concerns of some of his white countrymen and women, after increasing criticism of his Black Economic Empowerment policy and other elements of Transformation.
His message, recalling repeatedly the line in the Freedom Charter and the constitution that „South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white“, seemed an olive branch. First he lauded the outgoing chief justice, Arthur Chaskelson, retiring apparently to make way on June 1 for a black judge after supporting the government in its recent demand that transformation be carried into the judiciary. Then he mentioned other white South Africans‘ contributions, and praised the work of two who had initiated the Homecoming Revolution, a campaign for the return of South Africans from abroad. He also singled out Helena Dolny, widow of the former Communist leader Joe Slovo, for praise. Dolny has been sent into political limbo in 1999 after her term at the Land Bank and her rehabilitation was a signal of appeasement to the white Left.
Others, such as former Reserve Bank deputy Gill Marcus, have spent a period in political limbo because of some indication of presidential displeasure, waiting to be beckoned back into favour by a signal of recognition from someone in Mbeki's entourage or family.
The subtext to Mbeki's statements, as heard in parliament and political circles, was conciliatory following attacks on his style of government, centralized and impatient of such criticism as that coming from Archbishop Desmond Tutu late last year.
Mbeki's message, which also included mention of a number of liberal former MPs, was understood and praised by the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon, who believes that the way the BEE programme is being run represents a re-racialisation of South Africa. But Mbeki was also signalling to the labour movement Left in the Triple Alliance, mentioning John Nkadimeng, founder-leader of the SA Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), and Chris Dlamini, who helped establish Cosatu, the Congress of SA Trade Unions 20 years ago, an indication that the period of relative peace between Left and Right inside the alliance is being sustained.


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