Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Review - Mark Gevisser - Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred


Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred

Mark Gevisser

Jonathan Ball (2007), 892 p.



What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

~ Langston Hughes ~


Born into the struggle against apartheid, Thabo Mbeki has constantly sought to subsume his personal life to the historical mission of serving the ANC. This makes his biography a difficult task, but 8 years in the making Gevisser has produced a book of remarkable insight and subtlety.


Mbeki’s youth is portrayed as a disconnected one as he is early on identified for a leadership role and sent to the UK to study. Thus starts an ambiguous relationship with the ANC. As a Western-educated intellectual he brings sophistication and clarity of thinking to the organisation, rapidly ascending to become its principal diplomat and O.R. Tambo’s heir apparent. However, his comrades resent him for his ambition and many enemies are made along the way, revealing the cynical manipulations of the exile culture.


Less attention is given to the presidency itself, but Gevisser does well to trace the origins of Mbeki’s AIDS dissidence, his eccentric views on Zimbabwe and other blunders - perhaps giving them more of an intellectual explanation than they deserve. For better or for worse, few people have done more to change the course of South Africa than Thabo Mbeki. The Dream Deferred succeeds in getting beneath the enigma of such an important figure.


David Ansara

For a far better review see the Economist.com

'Mystery Man'



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