Mbeki makes TIME 100

15 April 2005

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been named by TIME Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people of 2005.

In its 2005 TIME 100 special issue, the publication lists Mbeki as one of 20 leaders and revolutionaries “with the clout and power to change the world”.

South African journalist William Gumede, in his TIME profile of SA’s president, writes that Mbeki “can be so busy putting out fires around Africa that South Africans sometimes sneer that he has too little time for his own country.

“Such is the burden of the most powerful man in Africa, the first person local and international leaders call at the slightest hint of trouble, and the one African influential enough to strong-arm rival factions into ceasefires and sometimes even peace deals.”

‘Peacemakers, dictators, terrorists, holy men’
Mbeki keeps company on TIME’s list with the political leaders of nine other countries: George Bush (US), Hu Jintao (China), Kim Jong II (North Korea), Manmohan Singh (India), Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian Authority), Ariel Sharon (Israeli), John Howard (Australia), Chen Shui-bian (Taiwan) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela).

Four other US politicians make the list – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Senators Barack Obama and Bill Frist – as well as British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and UN chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown.

These are joined by former US President Bill Clinton, Vatican power-broker Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Iraqi terrorist Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, influential Iraqi cleric Ali Husaini Sistani, and outspoken Moroccan-born Dutch polician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Sparking an African Renaissance
Gumede relates in his profile how French President Jacques Chirac, annoyed by Mbeki’s peace brokering in war-torn former French colony Ivory Coast, commented in February that South Africa’s president should first “immerse himself in West Africa so as to understand the mentality and the soul of West Africa”.

The parties to Ivory Coast’s civil war were having none of this. After four days of talks with Mbeki in Pretoria at the beginning of April, they agreed to cease hostilities and begin working towards elections in October – and gave much of the credit for the breakthrough to Mbeki.

“If there is one thing Mbeki understands, it’s Africa”, writes Gumede – who shows in his recently published book, “Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC”, that he is not shy of criticising SA’s president.

“When the erudite, web-surfing former exile took the mantle from South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, in 1999, most, including Mbeki himself, wondered how he would ever fill Mandela’s shoes”, Gumede continues.

“Six years on, and having led his ruling African National Congress party to an increased majority in elections last year, Mbeki, 62, is proving a powerful leader in his own right.

“If Mandela helped unite a divided nation, Mbeki has set out to achieve something almost as difficult: to drag Africa into the international spotlight and spark an ‘African Renaissance’ that will bring democracy, peace and development.”

Mandela, not surprisingly, is the other South African in the latest TIME 100, this time under the “heroes and icons” category.

The 1993 Nobel Peace laureate – who in recent years has campaigned as vigorously against HIV/Aids in Africa as he once did against apartheid – featured in the original 1999 TIME 100 as one of 20 leaders and revolutionaries who “helped define the century’s political and social fabric”.

SouthAfrica.info reporter