To understand the disappointment of the last decade in South Africa, it is important to contrast Mr. Mbeki with his predecessor. When Nelson Mandela emerged from his 27‐year incarceration, he preached forgiveness and compassion and set about to forge a nation in which the whites — his former jailers — had an important role to play. Mr. Mbeki, on the other hand, remained a Marxist ideologue who never overcame the pain and prejudices of his life in exile.
In Mr. Mbeki’s view the West oppressed the rest of mankind. Obsessed with race and colonialism, Mr. Mbeki undermined the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. To him, orthodox science “portrayed black people…[as] victims of a slave mentality.” Rejection of the HIV/AIDS orthodoxy was necessary to confront “centuries‐old white racist beliefs and concepts about Africans.” Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of South Africans died needlessly while Mr. Mbeki defended rejectionist scientists who claimed AIDS wasn’t caused by HIV.
Similarly, it was Mr. Mbeki’s warped ideology that led him to support Zimbabwe’s dictator. Robert Mugabe couched his devastating economic policies in revolutionary terms — as a just fight against alleged British plots and other delusions. For eight years the South African begged for more time for his “quiet diplomacy” while Zimbabwe burned. If the recent power‐sharing deal between Mr. Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai works, it will do so not because of Mr. Mbeki’s diplomacy but because of his departure. Mr. Mugabe may yet find it more advantageous to compromise with Mr. Tsvangirai than to deal with Mr. Zuma who criticized Mr. Mugabe in the past.
Mr. Mbeki’ accommodating policy toward Mr. Mugabe exemplified a growing gap between the high‐minded principles the South African claimed to follow in foreign affairs and the sordid reality of his policies. He cozied up to Cuba, Iran, and Libya. At the U.N., his diplomats worked with China to prevent a debate on human rights abuses in Burma. South Africa’s intelligence minister visited Iran last year, where he praised Hezbollah and Hamas. In sum, Mr. Mbeki never encountered an anti‐Western tyrant he did not like.
At home, he exhibited the authoritarian tendencies he had learned during his stint in the Soviet Union. He transformed the state‐owned South African Broadcasting Corporation into a personal propaganda machine that banned some of his critics from appearing on it. He banished some of his competitors in the ANC by accusing them of trying to assassinate him. External dissenters, like the opposition Democratic Alliance, were weakened by persistent accusations of racism. That stifled public debate over the direction of South Africa’s economic and social policies, including a murder rate that is nine times higher than that of the United States, and a healthcare system which according to the World Health Organization is worsening.