Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mbeki in a bubble?

I was quite harsh about President Thabo Mbeki's Internet letter in which he said the Daily Dispatch was lying about conditions at Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape. But it struck me today that part of the problem might be that the President lives in a bubble and just does not know what is going on because his advisers are too scared to tell him.

Last week at an Imbizo in the Western Cape President Mbeki startled the crowd by asking: "What is Tik?". When he gave a news conference on Sunday and was asked about reports in the Afrikaans newspapers about the abuse of funds by the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs journalists were taken aback when he had not heard of these allegations - despite the fact that the story was published two days earlier and the Presidency was asked for comment.

This morning Anton Harber has an interesting column in the Business Day about joining the President on one of his Imbizo trips and writes:

Mbeki himself goes out of his way to give the event substance. He is attentive and responsive. There are scribes taking down every issue raised for follow-up and there are full minutes of the previous imbizo so the president can monitor what has been done since then. Local and provincial officials are in trepidation for the closed meeting at the end of the imbizo, in which they will have to account for their activities, and in which Mbeki is known to lambast laggards.

To be in the media contingent trailing the president’s entourage is to get a sense of the bubble in which he has to live. At every venue, curious locals press at the fence. As the security men race the convoy through streets cleared of other traffic, people gape from a distance.

I still think the President's tendency to paranoia is mostly to blame for the kind of embarrassing Internet letter published last Friday. But if he lives and travels in a bubble and if his officials are all scared of him, there would be little incentive among his staff to tell him the hard truths. Was he given a sanitised version of the report about what was happening at Frere Hospital because officials or the Minister was too scared to admit that the Hospital is a disgrace?

This would be troubling because it would mean that officials really controlled to a large degree what the President would hear and what not. They could thus shape his view of reality and could distort it beyond what its tenable. I for one would feel better if m President were surrounded by strong and honest people who never shied away from telling him the truth as they see it - no matter how unpalatable.


Anonymous said...

Here one cannot but agree. Thabo lives in a bubble - but whether it is his advisors that are to blame is another question. Debating on an Afrikaans blog on the website of Die Burger (@parlement) a few weeks ago, a number of people voiced their absolute amazement at the fact that, when Thabo was briefed on the 'Tik' problem on the Cape Flats, he asked: "But (read - 'duh'), what is 'Tik'?" - also referred to in this blog. You could actually 'tik' him 'om' with a 'veertjie' [or slap him with a 'pap snoek'] (as one blogger suggested) when it was explained to him that Tik is actually the latest drug-habit whose manifacture is currently causing much concern country-wide. He has not heard about the abuse of funds by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, neither did he know who ok'd Phumzile's (his appointee) exorbitant travels and shopping abroad at state expense. Now the Mount Frere hospital thing. What else is there our President does not know? That everything is going wrong in Zimbabwe (esp when Mugabe saw what happened to Charles Taylor)? Does the President at all have advisors? Or, are they playing computer games on their offial computers instead of serving the people of South Africa? But even so, does the President himself never read papers, watch TV News or talk to the people? Or does he just suck his pipe, sip from his glass, and think up what next to say in his weekly News letter "ANC Today" to soothe his constituency? Good Lord! Who is atually governing this country?

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, now one should really start becoming very careful! The Deputy President (a woman) gets off without a slap on the wrist for unauthorized travels abroad. ... The Minister of Health (a woman) can say anything about HIV/AIDS, and has the support of the President (or does he have hers?). ... The Deputy Minister of Health (a woman) states publicly that she has another view on HIV/AIDS, ... aand she reports that the conditions at Mt Frere hospital is a 'national crisis', ... aand she travels abroad to a conference that has everything to do with her (and the Minster's) portfolio (Health), ... aand the President and the Minister of Health do not particularly like it, ... she gets sacked!! Who said Mbeki wants more women in top political positions? Or does that only apply to women who agree with him and dance to his tune (or is he dancing to theirs?)? ... Happy Women's Day!!

Akanyang Merementsi said...

I couldn't agree with you more. That's the thing with Politicians and the way they think.They just never look at situations first before reacting. And Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is no different