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July 09, 2003
Is Thabo Mbeki a moron? Or are we seeing what we want to see?
I recently linked to an article that noted that the ANC leadership is disproportionately Xhosa, Mandela and Mbeki's tribe, while their political rival the Inkatha Party is dominated by Zulus. Another point is that the South African province most devestated by HIV-AIDS has been KwaZulu-Natal, while the Xhosa areas have been effected to a milder degree . It is often asked why an intelligent and cosmopolitan man like Mbeki would allow his own people to die because of his fixation with bizarro-theories of AIDS and even more bizarro-cures. There are a few assumptions at work here though, in the most liberal interpretation, Mbeki is president of all South Africans, white to black (and all shades in between). A more realistic one is that he represents black South Africans who are given voice through the ANC. Finally, another view is that the ANC is the tool of the Xhosa elite, princes like Mandela et al.
In weighing the cost vs. benefit of battling AIDS head on, breaking social taboos in talking about sexual relations as well as draining his budget in the face of enforced neo-liberalism from the international community, I wonder if Mbeki wonders if perhaps AIDS is not a "Zulu problem." I am not suggesting ethnic chauvanism is the main reason, or even one he explicitly considers, but how many of Mbeki's close friends are Zulu? (his best friend is supposedly an Indian man) How many of Mbeki's family members have married Zulus? How many live in KwaZulu-Natal?
The outside world might see Mbeki as a black man, but perhaps he sees himself as a Xhosa prince, and makes his decisions appropriately. AIDS is decimating South African society, true, but it almost certainly also further crystallizing the Xhosa hold on power and enabling relative Zulu decline.
 Circumcision is given as the main reason for the difference-Xhosa's practice it, Zulus do not.