Former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director-general and later SA ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela was also once one of then president Thabo Mbeki’s closest advisers.
In his new book, Time Is Not the Measure, he reveals the reservations Mbeki had about appointing Jacob Zuma as deputy president.
“Thabo Mbeki said to me that under Zuma’s leadership, corruption would be institutionalised and become normal in government and the ANC,” Mavimbela writes of Mbeki’s concerns regarding making Zuma his deputy ahead of his inauguration as president in 1999.
According to Mavimbela, Mbeki also felt Zuma “lacked capacity,” but he did not have a good reason not to make him his deputy, as Zuma was elected deputy president of the ANC in 1997 and would therefore be the natural choice.
Mbeki apparently held discussions about an alternative deputy president, which culminated in Zuma complaining to Lindiwe Sisulu that Mbeki’s inner circle didn’t want him in the position.
While it is known that Mbeki had considered IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi as his deputy in return for control over KwaZulu-Natal, at the time a highly contested IFP stronghold, Mavimbela details for the first time Mbeki’s apparent reluctance to appoint Zuma.
In the book, Mavimbela says that he was fired as director-general of the NIA as Zuma’s inner circle suspected that he was a spy for Tokyo Sexwale.
Though they became rivals, Mbeki and Zuma were once close allies in the ANC, having been arrested together in Swaziland in 1976 and having conducted talks together with the National Party government in the early 1980s, which paved the way for the formal negotiations of Codesa.