Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Speech by Thabo Mbeki

I've just come across this speech that was to have been delivered on the 5th of November 2003 by Thabo Mbeki, at the University of Toronto. What is noteworthy about the speech from my point of view isn't so much the political vision outlined in it, but the sheer erudition it bears witness to: there are references to Hegel, to Francis Fukuyama, to Ben Okri, and to Paul Collier, amongst others; there is an awareness, rare amongst political types, that the "globalization" about which so much is made today is in some ways little more than a return to where the world already was in 1913, albeit without the labor mobility of that era.

One expects, of course, that Mbeki, like any other prominent politician, will have had some help in writing the speech, but it still speaks true to life, given what I've heard about the man; he has a Master's degree in Economics, is said to be an intensely bookish sort, and is visibly lacking in what is euphemistically referred to as the "common touch", i.e., a penchant for cheap soundbites guaranteed to please the crowd. Mbeki's intellectualism, while commendable in my book, makes it all the more mystifying that he should go in for such strange theories about AIDS. It would be one thing if he were the sort of man of whom it could be said "he doesn't really know what he's doing", but that is the very last thing one can say about Thabo Mbeki; his highly competent management of the South African economy puts paid to any notion of a man too limited to understand what's at stake. The only explanation I can think of is that he has an emotional block or a phobia of some sort where AIDS is concerned.

NB - This BBC article gives a bit of insight into Mbeki's background. Incidentally, it also helps a bit to dispel the cheap propaganda that Mandela was a dangerous "communist", as so many conservative apologists loved to argue in the 1980s; Mandela's ideological disagreement with the South African Communist Party member Govan Mbeki (Thabo's father) was so intense that the two men didn't speak to each other for the first two years of their imprisonment on Robben Island. Some much, then, for Mandela's "communist" sympathies.