Mbeki as tragic Shakesperian hero

President Thabo Mbeki’s shock resignation on Sunday night has me reaching for my Julius Caesar (Act 3, scene 2). I have this image of the noble Caesar (Mbeki) cut down in the forum by the conspirators (Mantashe, Motlanthe, Malema, Zuma et al).

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it….
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?

I see that Zapiro (our national and increasingly controversial cartoonist) went a far more direct route with his weekly Sunday Times cartoon.

Mbeki gave a good farewell speech – noble, dignified and pleading his innocence while bowing out graciously. Even though he was an aloof, intellectual and decidedly un-empathic president for most of his term in office, I still prefer him over Zuma whom I just don’t trust. Zuma is possibly more duplicitous, saying what people want to hear (business to the business world; socialism to the workers, his Umshini Wam song to the masses) and then doing what he wants anyway. But I guess the masses would say that they love him because he connects with them. They can identify with him.

What was good about Mbeki’s speech on Sunday was that for the first time in a long time, he spoke from the heart as well as from the head. You could see the emotion in his eyes. The irony is that both Zuma and Mbeki have portrayed themselves as victims rather than perpetrators whereas it is their own actions which have got them (and the country) into such a mess.
Antony famously says that “I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on”.

Of course the opposite is true. He speaks very eloquently using the “power of speech” to stir men’s blood to rise up against Brutus and the other conspirators. The trick to being a good politician is to speak eloquently but to let people believe that you are speaking “right on”. It’s also a pity that this new Mbeki, the leader who connects with his feelings as well as his considerable intellect, is bowing out.

Update: I see that Alison Tilley over at Thoughtleader has had similar (but also quite different) ideas on the subject of Mbeki as tragic Shakesperian hero.


3 Responses to Mbeki as tragic Shakesperian hero

  1. Extremely apt, Pete. We are all holding our breaths waiting to see what comes next.

  2. Pete says:

    Yes, definitely interesting times here in SA! I think this change is actually for the best.

  3. We would like to use your article in a textbook. I’d be grateful if you could send me an email address to which I could send a formal request.

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