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But his growing influence on the world scene also makes his patent flaws all the more alarming. The face the president shows within South Africa is decidedly less benign. Domestic critics feel that he is becoming so over-mighty, and so intolerant of criticism, that he may undermine the vibrant democracy that the ANC helped create. They note that he has held power a long time.

He became deputy-president under Mr Mandela in and was left to run much of domestic policy, especially economic affairs. Mr Mbeki and a team of friends—Trevor Manuel as finance minister, Tito Mboweni at the central bank—pushed through a set of tough economic reforms, known as GEAR the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Plan , to cut the deficit, lower inflation, cut tariffs and bureaucracy and privatise some state firms.

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These reforms left opponents reeling. Those who wanted to see a state-dominated economy were barged aside. Trade union demands for job protection were ignored.

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But the economy has now started to blossom. Growth is higher than its historical average, and has been sustained for the longest period since the middle of the last century. Now Mr Mbeki's advisers talk of halving unemployment by and of creating , net new jobs a year.


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The battle to impose liberal economics was won, however, at a high political cost. Mr Mbeki clamped down on policy debate including debate on how to fight AIDS , or of what to do about Zimbabwe and he enormously increased the power of his office. Two issues now worry even members of the ANC and allies of Mr Mbeki: the bitter and unforgiving tone of the president himself, and how the structures of power have been usurped.

In the past six months Mr Mbeki has carried out a series of personal attacks on soft targets, mostly through the medium of a long weekly column which is posted on the ANC's website. He first lashed out at Tony Trahar, the boss of Anglo American, the biggest firm in South Africa, for saying that some political risk persists in the country. Then he snapped at a white journalist, a rape victim who has written about the terrible rates of sexual abuse in South Africa, saying that she was a racist and out to denigrate black men.

At other times, AIDS campaigners who lobby for useful drugs for patients are accused of being stooges of foreign drug companies. Mr Mbeki has now stopped espousing his dreadful view that AIDS is not caused by a virus, but still shows little enthusiasm for the anti- AIDS measures that almost everyone believes are needed. The archbishop has a gift for riling pompous leaders. Sadly, Mr Mbeki chose to ally himself with the Zimbabwean tyrant against the genial and democratic clergyman.

The editor of the Sunday Times newspaper in Johannesburg, Mondli Makhanya, sees a case of presidential paranoia. Mbeki's writings betray a person who believes he is powerless.

Thabo Mbeki

They are laments of weakness and victimhood. Of conspiracy and fear. They betray a mind that is permanently on a war footing. Do not assess the Chief by these incidents alone, they say. But since Mr Mbeki rarely talks to journalists, there are few other public pronouncements to judge him by.

The Failures of Thabo Mbeki - The New York Times

Others note a long history of intolerance. During his exile from South Africa, he sidelined rivals by having them sent to distant posts. Back in South Africa he barged aside his main rival for leadership, Cyril Ramaphosa the man Mr Mandela wanted to succeed him. Mr Mbeki holds grudges. He previously clashed with Mr Tutu for recording abuses by the ANC during the struggle against apartheid. He famously despises the leader of the opposition, Tony Leon, refusing to respond to him or even to acknowledge him.

The president has also used party and state structures to bolster his own power. The state broadcasting company is docile and uncritical of the government. Many opposition politicians are co-opted. But internal party reforms have weakened the ANC and strengthened the leader. Local branches and national policy conferences, which have influenced policy and leadership for much of the party's 93 years, have lost much of their power.

Mr Mbeki now appoints all nine provincial governors, and directly controls the chief posts of the civil service. He also has his own spies at his disposal, alongside the intelligence network of the state.

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Most alarmingly, he uses organs of the state against party rivals. It was a ludicrous accusation, but it pushed the three men out of politics. Mr Gumede worries that all this threatens the young democracy. Moeletsi Mbeki, a businessman and the president's brother, is blunter. He even interprets Mr Mbeki's tacit support of Mr Mugabe as solidarity with a fellow black leader. That may be putting it too strongly, but it is a warning to heed.

When Mr Mbeki pushes for reform and development abroad, he speaks as the leader of Africa's most successful democracy. And tolerance for debate, dissent and opposition is vital if domestic—and foreign—success is to be sustained. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today. Media Audio edition Economist Films Podcasts. New to The Economist? Sign up now Activate your digital subscription Manage your subscription Renew your subscription.

Topics up icon. Blogs up icon. Current edition. Audio edition. Economist Films. The Economist apps. More up icon. But his influence abroad may be undermined by his intolerance at home print-edition icon Print edition Special report Jan 20th Johannesburg. Reuse this content About The Economist. How to contain Iran As America and Iran inch closer to war, new talks are needed Negotiation, not confrontation, is the way to stop the mullahs from getting the bomb.

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That they remain in their posts is…. Despite its parliamentary majority, was a year of reckoning for the ANC. Seemingly no longer in command of Parliament or public opinion, it emerged from the election bruised but not defeated. However, its performance lacks the swaggering bravado we have come to expect — it knows it has been wounded.

Whether it can staunch…. A widely touted election scenario is that the African National Congress sees its majority slashed. How else could one explain the sheer size of ego that drives Mbeki-era mandarins or should we…. All Rights Reserved. Tag Archives: Thabo Mbeki.


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