Letter: Mbeki no bogeyman

Sir: It is hard for anyone to succeed President Nelson Mandela. Although once vilified by most of the South African press, he is now, as Mary Braid points out in her article (17 December) "warm, saintly and charismatic" as well as a "lovable demi-god".

What a contrast to his heir apparent, Thabo Mbeki. Ms Braid obviously could not arrange an interview with him - "a man we do not know", "a mysterious matchstick man" whose "politics are largely unknown" and whose "private life is a complete mystery".

But in quoting rumours about "the diminutive Mr Mbeki, always beautifully turned out but oh so dull to listen to" she cites various unsubstantiated charges of Machiavellian behaviour and tags him with words like "bogeyman", "plotting", "hostility" and "persecutor".

I met Thabo at anti-apartheid meetings in London when he was a young law student. He used to come home and eat with my wife and me and play with our children. He was one of the sweetest men I ever met - intelligent, articulate, funny, compassionate and an imaginative lover of the arts.

Now he is about to take on one of the hardest, most complex and important jobs in the world. Already he is being demonised. We should judge him by his actions, not by poisonous rumours. For the love of South Africa, let's give him and his great country all the help we can.

Adrian Mitchell

London NW5