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William Mervin Gumede, 'Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC'

Zed Books, 2007; ISBN: 978-1842778487; pp. 368; £16.99

A political biography of both Thabo Mbeki and the ANC since taking power, this book explores and evaluates the frustrations of the ANC's transformation from a national liberation movement to a strongly centrist political party committed to market-based economic policies. Packed with detail and context, the book can be read as a thorough introduction to current South African politics or as “what went wrong in post-liberation South Africa”.

Gumede gives an insight into the consequences of differing organisational structures used during the struggle. The hierarchical and secretive “democratic centralism” of the ANC's leadership in exile has prevailed over the ethos of debate on Robben Island. Internal dissent has been crushed, as critics face personal attacks as “un-African” and “foreign imperialists”. The book warns how even the highly inclusive “internal” struggle in the townships during the 80s was sidelined post- 94, re-emerging a decade later in the new social movements demand- ing AIDS treatment and an end to privatisation.

The book examines the context of Mandela and Mbeki's conversion to market-driven “development”. During the struggle, the ANC's left and its partner organisation the South African Communist Party did not develop their understanding of progressive socio-economic trans- formation. This left the door open for pressure and “education” from the World Bank, the IMF, Western governments and newly market- friendly Vietnam and China. By “talking left while acting right”, Mbeki ensured that the ANC represented black middle class interests, reconnecting with the township and rural masses only prior to elections. Yet Gumede warns the left, which supported Zuma in his leadership race with Mbeki, that despite his populist rhetoric, Zuma shares an identical background in autocratic decision-making and an equal commitment to big business.

Yet the ANC has not been “co-opted”. Anti-imperialism has remained prevalent amongst top ANC leaders. With accuracy, Western pharmaceuticals, the UK and US were seen as interfering in the AIDS and Zimbabwe issues to further their own interests. Disastrously however, Mbeki's response was to
pursue deeply flawed, supposedly but not actually “African solutions” lemon and garlic for AIDS and “quiet diplomacy” for Mugabe.

For those either with an interest in South Africa or seeking to learn from South Africa's experiences of what happens when liberation movements take power and how the interests of those who suffered most from apartheid were betrayed, this 430-page volume will be a grip- ping read.

Topics: Global South