Thabo Mbeki could never be as beloved as Nelson Mandela, so he didn’t try, writes Mark Tran in the Guardian. Instead, Mbeki projected himself as a competent technocrat: cool, aloof, almost disdainful of popular opinion. He leaves behind a legacy as inscrutable as that persona, with clear victories, like the power-sharing deal he engineered in Zimbabwe, and bizarre failures, like his stance on HIV.
In Zimbabwe, Mbeki’s imperviousness to criticism helped; his much-derided quiet diplomacy in the end produced results. But he spent years denying that HIV caused AIDs and blocking retroviral programs, reversing course only for the 2004 election. South Africa’s economy has shown robust growth under his stewardship, but poverty has gotten worse. It’s too ambiguous a legacy for Mandela-like acclaim, but Mbeki can argue that he has set the stage for South Africa’s continued development.