It's a war; where's Mbeki?
With political foes to slay, it’s a long wait for the president to show a public flicker of concern about crime
HOW long will we have to wait for President Thabo Mbeki to appear on television and tell the men responsible for the death of 15-month-old Khensani Mitileni and others like them that he and his government, with the undoubted backing of millions of our citizens, declare war on violent criminals?
When will he and his ineffectual security ministers unveil a workable plan to round up such people, prosecute them competently and speedily, jail them and make sure they stay put in prison?
Where was Mbeki after heist criminals brazenly attacked a cash-in-transit van, took the money from it and then, without provocation, cruelly set it alight, killing all four guards trapped inside?
Or after an armed gang opened fire on the police, turning Jeppestown into a warzone and killing four policemen? Or after a 14-year-old schoolboy fatally stabbed a schoolmate and went on the run for days from the authorities? Or after hijackers took a man’s car, shot him in the head, and then drove over him for good measure? Or after armed robbers tortured and killed the four-year-old granddaughter of one of the country’s top judges? Where was the leader of the republic after these acts of terror were committed?
In fact, where is President Thabo Mbeki generally? And how long will this country live with and tolerate what amounts to a refusal to lead from the man who, through the grace of its citizens, occupies its highest office?
This week’s gun battle in downtown Johannesburg, which led to the death of baby Khensani and the injury of seven other innocent bystanders, must surely be the last straw even for a country that has become inured to the impact of daily violence. The incident has shocked the nation, but has been met with cold, arrogant silence from the nation’s leaders.
Not a single expression of outrage. Not a word of condolence to the mother whose child died violently on her back, where a child is meant to be safest. No rebuke for those responsible. No words of comfort for a city left shocked and confused by the madness unfolding in its streets.
It’s as if Mbeki and his cabinet have retired to an underground bunker, unwilling — maybe even afraid — to rear their heads, lest they be the next victims of the war unleashed on the rest of us. Where are our elected leaders?
Mbeki, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla, Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula all seem to be too busy elsewhere to be concerned with securing the lives of millions of citizens who have no other place to turn to but their government.
For his part, Mbeki has featured in public recently only when he is attacking his political enemies in the tripartite alliance. What manner of leader reaches the conclusion that his allies’ criticisms “amount to serious provocation”, but has absolutely nothing to say on the seditious slaughter of innocents by gangs who respect neither law nor life?
What more has to happen to the people who elected the African National Congress (ANC) to power, for its leaders to acknowledge that there is a crisis of rampant violent crime in SA? When will denialism and wilful blindness cease to be favoured weapons in the armoury of governance in SA?
When the history of the Mbeki decade in South African politics is written, future generations will doubtless judge more harshly than we have done. They will conclude that the social fabric of SA came apart at the seams while its leader engaged in Machiavellian games with enemies real and imagined. They will see a president so obsessed with his legacy, and desperate attempts to defend it at all costs, that he even forgot to govern.
They will point an accusing finger at Mbeki and say: “You failed Khensani Mitileni.”