Thabo Mbeki's World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President

In This Review

Thabo Mbeki's World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President

Edited by Sean Jacobs and Richard Calland
University of Natal Press, 2002
310 pp. $160.00

The editors of this collection make an ambitious effort to fathom Mbeki's ambiguities and contradictions, but they demonstrate by the end that although you can enumerate his parts, you cannot tally him up. Rhetorically he is a committed social democrat, in practice a committed ally of big business. Today he might be an African nationalist, tomorrow an eloquent nonracialist. On the African continent, he advocates greater democracy, transparency, and respect for human rights; at home, his political style is elitist, secretive, and authoritarian. In the international arena, where he knows that South Africa can still punch above its weight, he projects himself as a reformer dedicated to fighting the inequities of market-driven globalization. At the same time, he scrupulously avoids any links with other movements for global reform, including the ones with significant political followings inside South Africa. Is he just a crafty political survivor who lacks any genuine principles? The left-leaning pundits who predominate among the book's contributors are not altogether sure. Most are pretty certain, however, that both his governing style and his economic policies are not what most South Africans want or need.

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