FELLOW South Africans, I know, I know; it has taken me almost ten years to come to this. But please trust me, this letter comes from the heart, following deep, serious introspection on my part.
I decided to do this without relying on summaries and briefs prepared by my aides, all of whom are hard-working men and women. I watched a number of televised recordings of discussions in Parliament, many of which seem to focus more on my person than on normal government business.
I have to admit that what I saw, heard and read awoke another person inside of me; it awoke the president you expected me to be throughout all these storms.
Honestly, a part of me has been tempted to issue a simple statement denying any wrongdoing on my part, just like Minister Brown, Colonel Molefe and several other people implicated in state capture have been doing; but I am the president and I cannot go that route.
Giggles in Parliament
I was also tempted to explain that frankly, I was not aware of the extent of the hurt and seeming hatred directed at my person and some members of my family, especially my boys, Duduzane and Edward. This should explain my now famous giggles in Parliament and jokes about state capture in many public forums I have addressed.
My giggles and jokes were not meant to come as spite and a sign of wilful insouciance on my part, even though they were clearly interpreted as such by many of you.
So, it would be too easy to simply say “I’m sorry that I didn’t take your cries seriously; please let’s turn the page and move on”, and believe that is all it would take to sort things out. I will therefore not simply issue a lame apology; at least not in that fashion.
While my decision to speak to you directly follows my observation of how events recently unfolded in Zimbabwe, it is by no means because of those events that I decided to act. We all know that our situation in South Africa and the one in Zimbabwe are like chalk and cheese.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t pretend not to see the extent to which a once popular leader of a country that once aspired to be a modern African democracy failed to see the growing gulf between his world and the one occupied by the people who elected him to lead them; a leader who was so convinced that everyone loved him that he couldn’t make sense of the impromptu street parties that sprang up everywhere at the first sign of his imminent departure.
When I watched all of that unfold, I became more determined that the same should never be allowed to happen in South Africa because we’re different. I’m really happy that we are different, here in South Africa, and that I’m a different president and you a different people.
We’re an exceptional people.
Mea culpa maxima
My introspection would not be complete if I failed to take into account the current state of our economy, the health of our racial harmony, and ongoing discussions all over the country about what could have brought us to where we are. As president, I can no longer play the game of kicking the can to somebody else’s door forever.
As president, I hold a baton that was passed down by my predecessors, first in the ANC and more recently in post-apartheid South Africa. On this baton are inscribed on the one hand the aspirations of what the ANC, my party, once stood for, and on the other, the combined aspirations of all the people of South Africa – you.
They were first enshrined in the Freedom Charter, which had always enjoyed wide support across many formations, and later contributed in no small measure to inspire our nation’s shared journey, following the historic multi-party negotiations of the early 1990s.
Those negotiations culminated in a globally admired Constitution and a progressive Bill of Rights; a Constitution that, going by ongoing discussions, I have failed to embody.
My job as president has been to ensure that the spirit of our sociopolitical pact lives on to touch increasing numbers of South Africans each passing year, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and political affiliation, as we journey on to grow a united South African nation, rich in its diversity, sharing a home for all, and occupying a positive, influential role in African and world affairs.
That is also what our founding president, Nelson Mandela, would have expected of me.
Dodgy friends, debts owed to many
Over the years, I have allowed myself to make friends with all sorts of wrong people. It is also known that I came into the presidency with a deeply troubled character and owing a lot of money to a lot of people who, over time, have proven to be shady.
Such people had found their way into my life using my known weaknesses as leverage. I believed them when they offered to help me deal with issues in my private life so that I could focus on the historic task of leading our great nation.
In return, I have either cut corners on their behalf or made others use their positions in government and various state institutions to do so. Both myself and members of my vast family have benefited handsomely from the symbiotic relationships I enjoyed with these people.
I now realise that much of what I have done since I assumed office has negatively impacted the journey we agreed to share in the early 1990s. Had this not been the case, the lives of many more South Africans would have been improved with food on their tables, affordable access to higher education, jobs and business opportunities.
And racial harmony would have been strengthened each passing year that I have been in power, taking us further and further away from our apartheid past and closer to the united South Africa we agreed to build together.
I regret having been the one to defer our collective dream. So, the urgent action I have recently asked for starts here, with me.
All implicated in state capture will step aside
I, together will every single individual implicated in corruption and state capture, will step aside so that our country can begin the difficult journey to find its soul again, regain its reputational fortunes at home and abroad, and finally grow an inclusive economy to benefit more South Africans, especially those who have been waiting on the sidelines since the dawn of our young democracy, waiting to see the fruits all of all the sacrifices made by countless South Africans, black and white, over the decades.
In less than a month, the ANC will elect a new leader. I will play no role in those processes beyond presenting my presidential report to delegates. I shall henceforth stand aside and let processes unfold, led by relevant state institutions under credible leadership, to get to the bottom of what has happened and for the law to take its course.
I do this because I am finally the president I should have been.