In what has often been a dull election season, with the big parties playing to type, one thing over the past two weeks has stood out: the fleeting presence of Thabo Mbeki in the ANC’s campaign. He has given one of the worst performances of his political career and it is worth pondering why.

Mbeki used his time on the campaign trail to defend his legacy. The country was doing pretty well before his party recalled him, he pointed out; since then, everything has gone south. One expected him to say that and so he might. But what comes as a surprise is his explanation. Dark conspiracies, he says, linked to the old regime, are what brought him down and Zuma up, and took the country nearly to ruin...

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