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Contentions

South Africa’s Nixon

Richard Nixon was the most paranoid of American leaders, frequently lashing out at enemies—real or perceived—out to get him. Whether it was the “East Coast Establishment” in their ritzy private clubs and their control over the media, or hippies, Jews, or homosexuals, it seemed that nearly everyone was arrayed against Nixon. The great irony was that, by the time of his resignation, this was pretty much true.

R.W. Johnson, one of South Africa’s leading journalists, has an excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been nothing short of a disaster for his country. The focus of Johnson’s piece is Mbeki’s exceptional paranoia, which seems to match that of Nixon. Perhaps the most bizarre of Mbeki’s obsessions concerns the source of his support for Robert Mugabe; Johnson writes that it stems from the belief that a Western plot exists to topple Mugabe in Zimbabwe, with Mbeki’s African National Congress next in its sights.

To his legacy of AIDS denial, rampant crime, and support for the regime of Robert Mugabe, Mbeki will soon be able to add his bequeathing of the country to Jacob Zuma, a man likely to prove the impossible task of being a worse leader than Mbeki. Zuma has credibly been accused of corruption (the investigation is still pending), and though he was cleared last year of rape charges against an HIV-positive woman half his age, he infamously announced at trial that he was safe from infection because he had showered after intercourse.

Just as with Nixon, Johnson observes of Mbeki that “it really is true now that his opponents are conspiring against him, that he is cornered and that his enemies may triumph.” The African National Congress’s annual convention, to be held later this month, will decide the party’s next leader, who, because of the one-party dominant nature of the state, will in all likelihood become the next president of South Africa. “The next month or two are going to be a difficult time in South Africa,” Johnson ends ominously. But with the pending arrival of Jacob Zuma to the presidency, the next two months will be just the beginning.



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