Book Title: The Dream Deferred
Author: Mark Gevisser
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers
The Dream Deferred is a valuable biography of Thabo Mbeki, the longest serving president of the post apartheid South Africa (1999 to 2008).
The book is both a finery scholarly work and a riveting story of a man who succeeded the international icon Nelson Mandela to lead South Africa. By tracing the path of Mbeki’s life, it sheds new light into the making both of the man and the new South Africa founded in 1994. It seeks to and succeeds in bringing forth the early successes of transition to the new South Africa and its teething problems of rebirth. It is part biography (of Mbeki) and part history of the ruling African National Congress’s (ANC) protracted international struggle to end apartheid.
Author, Mark Gevisser spent seven years reconnecting the dots of Mbeki’s life. He travelled to places where Mbeki spent both his formative as well as exile years – Transkei, Angola, Swaziland, Tanzania, London, and Moscow among others. He interviewed anti-apartheid movement figures across the globe, ANC exile activists, academics, historians, family and friends. He also navigated a mountain of documentary evidence, archival material and of course interviewed his main protagonist, Thabo Mbeki. The result of Gevisser’s labour is a rich contemporary look into the present state of South Africa using historical lenses as both a guide and sounding board. The story is told in a fascinating manner making it accessible to wider audiences.
The Dream Deferred retraces the steps of Mbeki from his early birth in the hinterland of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa up until he was president of the country. It touches on how he grappled with the challenges of service delivery and the country’s re-entry into the international arena. Gevisser brings to life the voices and places that made Thabo Mbeki in a manner devoid of puffery. Gevisser is critical, yet empathetic to his main character (Mbeki) whom he believes to be a tragic figure. He examines in great detail the meaning of home and exile for Mbeki. He asks rhetorical questions as to whether Mbeki’s dream of leading South Africa into a modern state was deferred, if at all. If it was, Gevisser seems to wonder whether this was purely out of Mbeki’s shortcoming as a person or part of an intricate web of attempting to extricate a country from the abyss of a violent conflict in less than two decades after its birth with meagre resources.
The central argument of the book: South Africa’s rebirth is fraught with complex challenges that will take enormous time, resources and energy to traverse and overcome. It lays bare Mbeki’s preoccupation with levels of anger among the black sections of the population as the government’s service delivery machinery kept chugging along at a snail pace. Gevisser tells of this anxiety without passing judgment on the man. He seems to suggest through a narrative of Mbeki’s refusal to reconnect with his Eastern Cape birthplace that the Chief (Mbeki’s political nickname) has yet to grasp the meaning of home.
In his analyses of Mbeki’s speeches, favourite quotations and poems, Gevisser could discern a man not at ease with himself. Gevisser argues that Mbeki might be a prisoner to his favourite Shakespearean character Coriolanus. Caius Maroius Coriolanus is displayed in the play as an aggressive, tactless, and anti-social man. He is very unsympathetic, hateful, and very open about how he feels toward others. He is, on the other hand, admired for his strength and openness, but his former qualities make it impossible to love him. Indeed, in 2008, Mbeki’s party lost faith in him and decided to recall him as president. He resigned six months before the end of his term of office. He remains the member of the ANC and is active in his pet project of African Renaissance and peace building in Africa.
To this end, the Dream Deferred is a sociological study of a society in transition and how key political figures through act or omission may derail or fast-track the political and economic development of a newly independent state. The book is a collector’s item and a must read for policy makers, students of sociology, politics and philosophy. It makes an important contribution to the body of thought on key figures in Africa who brought to the table many attributes other than war and famine.