Former president Thabo Mbeki testifies at the Seriti Commission on Thursday.  Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Former president Thabo Mbeki testifies at the Seriti Commission on Thursday. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

FORMER president Thabo Mbeki says "caricatures" have displaced the truth about him and his time in office.

In a letter explaining the behind-the-scenes events surrounding an alleged conspiracy against him by Tokyo Sexwale, Matthews Phosa and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, Mr Mbeki denies implicating the three in the conspiracy to topple him over 15 years ago.

That was reportedly seen as a Machiavellian attempt by the then African National Congress (ANC) president to neutralise those who could possibly challenge him in the next ANC conference in 2002.

Mr Mbeki has largely stayed out of the public eye and steered clear of mainstream politics, speaking out on rare occasions since his recall in 2008. He was recalled in the aftermath of a bruising leadership battle with current ANC president Jacob Zuma in Polokwane in 2008, which divided the party and culminated in a split by Mr Mbeki’s backers to form the Congress of the People.

The letter appears to be an attempt to clear his name and shrug off perceptions that he was a flawed leader who was "aloof", "out of touch, autocratic, intolerant", "paranoid and abused state power".

In the letter posted on the Thabo Mbeki Institute of Leadership Facebook page on Monday, Mr Mbeki complains that the recent history of the country is largely written by "observers" whose account of events has become accepted as an "authoritative and definitive".

"Some of this writing has sought to define my character as I served as president of the ANC and the Republic, and argued that this characterisation helps to explain various developments during this period," he said.

"Among others, these observers have said that Mbeki was aloof, intellectual, out of touch with the ANC membership and the people, autocratic, intolerant of different views, sensitive to criticism, paranoid, abused state power to promote his personal political ambitions, marginalised the ANC from discharging its responsibilities as the ruling party by centralising power in the State Presidency, and so on."

This was written with no facts to substantiate it and was sometimes based on "misinformation", he said, resulting in a "gross distortion of our history and therefore a failure correctly to analyse developments of significant or major importance to the future of our country".

He says he penned the article to "correct" this mistake and accepts blame for his sustained silence when he should have spoken out.

The letter suggests it will be the first of many, and the first instalment is aimed at tackling the characterising of Mr Mbeki as "paranoid".

He describes how in his first five years as president, an ANC Youth League leader from Mpumalanga, James Nkambule, who has since died, approached the police and provided detailed information to them about a conspiracy to "do great harm" to Mr Mbeki.

At the heart of Mr Nkambule’s tale were Matthews Phosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa, who were said to be involved in the conspiracy. The story was recorded on a number of video tapes.

The SABC learnt of the story and reported on it, interviewing the late Steve Tshwete, then safety and security minister. The broadcaster knew the name of the conspirators and asked Tshwete to confirm them, which he did.

"The minister made the serious mistake of confirming these names live on air, during an evening broadcast. As soon as the interview was over, the minister telephoned me to inform me of what had happened and to apologise most profusely for his mistake.

"Naturally I reprimanded him for what he had done and asked that he should see me," Mr Mbeki said. It was then agreed that the South African Police Service (SAPS) and intelligence agencies would probe the authenticity of the allegations and that Mr Mbeki should meet Mr Nkambule.

"Nkambule was then brought to me by people who believed the story he had told the SAPS, people who remain members of the current national executive committee of the ANC," Mr Mbeki wrote.

"However, after listening to him, I remained convinced that the State Intelligence Services should continue their work to establish the truthfulness or otherwise of his allegations."

Due to the seriousness of the allegations, Mr Mbeki asked then deputy president Jacob Zuma, then ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, Tshwete and then Intelligence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to see him at his official residence.

"This we did and took the unanimous decision that I should task Minister Sisulu with the responsibility to get the NIA (National Intelligence Agency) and SASS (South African Secret Service), which fell under her, to verify or otherwise establish the authenticity of the Nkambule charges, in the same way as would the SAPS Crime Intelligence."

The tapes were handed over to Ms Sisulu and it is now public record that after the probe, it was found that there was no truth to Mr Nkambule’s allegations, and Tshwete publicly apologised to Mr Sexwale, Mr Phosa and Mr Ramaphosa.

"The fact, therefore, is that neither the presidency nor anybody in the national government and the senior leadership of the ANC had initiated any action implicating Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa in any conspiracy," he said.

"At no point did this leadership, including the President, take any position that there was any truth to the allegations, insistent that their veracity had to be established through thorough intelligence investigations and assessments.

"The Nkambule saga, which falsely implicated Phosa, Sexwale and Ramaphosa, had nothing whatsoever to do with my alleged paranoia, which the domestic and international media has continuously trumpeted for almost 15 years now, to date, based on false deductions and pure self-serving speculation."