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M Blackman

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Was Mbeki’s speech on Mandela’s 80th the harbinger of what has followed?

On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday, almost ten years ago to the day, Thabo Mbeki took pause to quote from King Lear. In the quotation Lear, the aged patriarch, finally accepts that he can no longer play a political role and resigns himself to a future of merely hearing, second hand, the fripperies and machinations of the court. Many have questioned why our current president chose to make this public utterance. It was, after all, the speech that Lear, the much-loved sage, pronounces when he is sent to prison by the bastard Edmund.

It has always been suggested that Mbeki did not intend the insult. However, another reading could very well be that Mbeki had every intention of insulting Mandela; that far from being an intellectual faux pas it seems highly plausible that Mbeki was ushering Mandela out of office and into a prison of political impotence, simultaneously cautioning him against using his influence in active politics. It is certainly true that Mbeki has paid little heed to Mandela’s advice and moral voice with regards to AIDS and Zimbabwe, and has gone some way to adding injury to insult.

There does seem to be some truth to the notion that Mbeki has since taken on the role of Edmund, the unloved son of Lear’s faithful courtier. Like Edmund, Mbeki has surrounded himself with politically influential woman whom he has been able to manipulate and has embraced and courted deeply nihilistic forces.

Now it seems that all that is left to us is the hope that Mbeki’s prophetic allusions will turn full circle. Certainly a political fratricide has taken place. But perhaps it would be going too far to hope that Mbeki has the awareness Edmund displays at his death and rescinds some of his wrongs.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    July 16th, 2008 @04:33 #

    The faux pas and the Freudian slip speak for the unconscious. A psychoanalytic interpretation would suggest that Mbeki's speech of ten years ago expressed his deepest desires to put the old man in his place.

    The more interesting question is how could he not have been conscious of the implication?


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