Deputy president sacked

President Thabo Mbeki’s sacking on Tuesday of his deputy, Jacob

Zuma, has been widely lauded but also criticised, while Zuma himself has accepted his fate.

Mbeki announced the move during a special joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

This came almost two weeks after Zuma was implicated in corruption during the Durban High Court trial of businessman Schabir Shaik, who acted as his financial advisor. Judge Hilary Squires sentenced Shaik to an effective 15 years in prison for fraud and corruption.

Zuma’s seat in the assembly, next to Mbeki’s, was empty as the president spoke.

Mbeki said he would make an announcement about the change in his Cabinet in due course.

‘My conscience is clear’

“Speaking to reporters at Tuynhuys in Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon, Zuma said he accepted and respected Mbeki’s decision to sack him as deputy president and would resign as an MP on Wednesday

Zuma, who at times appeared jovial, told reporters that it was Mbeki’s prerogative to take the decision “in the context and within his authority as the president of the republic”.

“I accept and respect his pronouncement.
I believe he has taken this decision not because he believes I am guilty of any crime but because of considerations relating to the constraints within which government operates.”

Zuma said he had also offered to resign his seat in Parliament, not as an admission of guilt of any kind, but in order to make it easier for the ANC and the government to function in Parliament.

“Let me reiterate that my conscience is clear.”

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‘We have had no precedent to guide us ...’

Mbeki told the joint sitting that the executive had to discharge its responsibilities within the context of the rule of law, which included respect for the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and presumption of innocence of any person, pending findings of the courts.

Mbeki said he had carefully studied Squires’ judgement, but emphasised this was not to make determinations about its merits or demerits, or whether it was wholly or partially right or wrong.

Such conduct did not fall within the executive’s constitutional mandate; that task belonged to the higher courts that would hear any appeal lodged.

“Accordingly, any actions we might take arising out of Justice Squires’ judgment would arise merely from the fact that a court judgement exists, which our Constitution enjoins us to respect,” he said.

He said the judgement contained detailed matters of fact and inference against which penalties had been meted out and, while proceedings pertaining to a possible appeal to higher courts were still pending, the judgement contained some “categorical outcomes”.

These were that the court had made findings against the accused and at the same time pronounced on how these related to Zuma, raising questions of conduct that would be inconsistent with expectations attending those holding public office.

However, unambiguous as the judgement might be about an assumed unsavoury relationship, Zuma had yet to have his day in court.

Mbeki said both he and Zuma were acutely sensitive to the responsibilities they bore as prescribed in the Constitution.

“We understand very well that we should at all times act in a manner that seeks to uphold, defend, and respect the Constitution.

“We have had no precedent to guide us as we consider our response to the judgement by Justice Squires. We have therefore had to make our own original determination on this matter guided by what we believe is in the best interest of the Honourable Deputy President, the government, our young democratic system and our country.

 

“I am fully conscious of the fact that the accused in the Schabir Shaik case have given notice of their intention to lodge an appeal.

“I am equally aware that a superior court may overturn the judgement handed down by Justice Squires,” he said.

“However, as president of the republic I have come to the conclusion that the circumstances dictate that in the interests of the honourable deputy president, the government, our young democratic system, and our country, it would be best to release the honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as deputy president

of the republic and member of the Cabinet.”

 

However, all developments in the relevant legal processes would be monitored and responded to, Mbeki said.

Personally, he continued to hold Zuma in high regard, and was convinced this applied to most members of Parliament.

“We have worked together under difficult and challenging conditions for 30 years. In this regard, I wish to thank him for the service that he has rendered as part of the executive, as national and provincial levels, sparing neither strength nor effort to ensure that, with each passing day, we build a better life for all South Africans.”

Mbeki said he would announce in due course the necessary changes in the executive to take account of the void that Zuma’s departure had created.

“I trust that what we have done today, and will do in future, together, will continue to strengthen our democracy, reinforce the accountability of those who hold public office, and deepen the confidence of the masses of our people in their elected representatives and our organs of state,” he said.

 

Mbeki appointed Zuma deputy president in 1999, and again in 2004. He was widely expected to succeed Mbeki in 2009.

From the start, Zuma has maintained his innocence on the corruption allegations and pointed out he has not been convicted of any crime.

According to media speculation, Zuma had refused to resign, leaving Mbeki with no choice but to fire him.

Decision will ‘play extremely well internationally’

Richard Calland, a political analyst and executive director of the Open Democracy Centre, told the Mail & Guardian Online shortly after Mbeki’s speech that the decision shows that the government will not tolerate corruption.

He said the decision “plays extremely well internationally”.

“It is going to ensure that [the] high standards of public life are maintained no matter how senior the official is that perpetrated the wrongdoing. There is no doubt that it’s an important day -‒ the most important moment since 1994—and if this is followed up with consistent and repeated action … it augers well for the future,” he said.

He said the decision will set the tone for those at the very top of government and “enable the political will to combat corruption to seep down to all levels of government and therefore bolster other champions for accountable government”.

Mandela, De Klerk back Mbeki

Former president Nelson Mandela told journalists his successor had made the right decision to sack Zuma.

“While we are naturally deeply saddened that Jacob Zuma, who had made such a major contribution to our liberation and democracy had to come to this point in his life and career, we fully support the President in this difficult time in the life of our government, nation and organisation.

Also welcoming the decision was former president F W de Klerk who called Mbeki’s action a “principled decision”.

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Zuma remains the deputy president of the ANC

The African National Congress’s National Working Committee (NWC) said on Tuesday that it accepts and supports Mbeki’s decision.

“The ANC understands this decision has been taken following careful consideration, in the best interests of democracy and effective governance, and with due regard to the integrity of all the institutions of our constitutional order,” the NWC said in a statement.

“This decision is also consistent with the principle of the rule of the law—including the right to presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”

The NWC also acknowledged and applauded “the outstanding contribution that comrade Jacob Zuma has made in the position of deputy president of the country, both in the execution of his responsibilities at home and in the groundbreaking work he has undertaken on the continent.

“The ANC calls on all sections of society to appreciate and respect the solemn responsibility of government to act in the interests of effective governance, to safeguard the integrity of our democracy, and to respect the decisions of our courts.

“Zuma remains the deputy president of the ANC, and will continue to receive the support of the ANC in the course of his work in this position,” the statement said.

African National Congress Women’s League general-secretary Bathabile Dlamini said on Tuesday she had no comment.

“No comment,” she said.

The league came out in support of Zuma prior to Mbeki’s announcement of Zuma’s “release” on Tuesday.

According to media speculation, Zuma had refused to resign, leaving Mbeki with no choice but to fire him.

Leon hails Mbeki’s courage

In a statement given to Mail & Guardian Online, leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon, said Mbeki had led the nation to a great victory, citing former ANC president Albert Luthuli who said, “What we need is the courage that rises with danger.”

“We have shown the world that South Africa is not among those nations who allow corruption to unravel the fabric of their country’s soul.”

“President Mbeki has lived up to the promise he made in this House three weeks ago, when he declared that our government will not be ‘undermined or compromised by corruption’, said Leon.

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‘Difficult’ time for the alliance

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which has been a vocal supporter of Zuma, says his dismissal should be debated amongst the members of the Tripartite Alliance—Cosatu, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ANC.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said this was a “difficult” time for the tripartite movement.

“We have taken notice of the announcement by the president and it is still too early for us to make further comments on the issue,” Vavi said. “This is a very, very trying moment for the movement as a whole.”

He said he was “devastated” and his heart went out to the deputy president, his family and his colleagues.

He said Zuma was not “just another fellow, not just another man,” he was “Msholozi himself” (Zuma’s clan name).

Vavi added that a special executive meeting of the alliance would be called in order to debate the matter.

On Sunday, Zuma told a Cosatu meeting in Durban he was prepared to become an ordinary member of the ANC.

“I have served as a branch member with no position [as an] ordinary activist, and I have served with some responsibilities in a branch, and I have served at many levels.

“I will always be ready to do that, even today. The day the ANC says do this I will do it,” the South African Broadcasting Corporation quoted Zuma as saying.

Zuma’s dismissal could pave the way for Mbeki to use the opportunity to reshuffle his Cabinet.

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The ANC is not divided

The ANC had denied there are divisions within the party over the Zuma affair.

“The ANC is not—and cannot be—divided over the outcome of the Schabir Shaik trial,” said ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama in a statement on Monday evening.

“The position of the organisation is well-known and broadly supported within the ranks of the ANC and the alliance—that due process must be followed and that the basic tenets of justice respected and upheld.”

Reports of conflict in the party have “been fuelled by a handful of voices within the ANC and its alliance partners who willingly propagate such falsehoods in pursuit of narrow individual agendas,” he said.

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Burning the midnight oil

On Monday Mbeki held a seven-hour meeting with senior African National Congress officials at ANC headquarters in Johannesburg.

Ngonyama denied that Zuma was the subject of those talks, but it was widely believed that his fate was discussed at the meeting.

Although no reporters saw Zuma being driven away from the building, he was believed to have left the meeting about two hours before the rest of the ANC executives.

Ngonyama earlier said: “It’s an ordinary official meeting.”

Besides Mbeki and Zuma, those attending were ANC chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota, party secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, his deputy, Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, and treasurer Mendi Msimang.

Ngonyama said he did not have any idea what was on the agenda. He said the agenda was decided by the leaders themselves. However, he did say there would be “no discussion on Zuma”.

Zuma was elected deputy president in 1999, and was expected to succeed Mbeki in 2009 when his second and final term as president ends.

On Sunday, Zuma told a Congress of South African Trade Unions meeting in Durban that he was prepared to become an ordinary member of the ANC.

“I have served as a branch member with no position [as an] ordinary activist, and I have served with some responsibilities in a branch, and I have served at many levels.

“I will always be ready to do that, even today. The day the ANC says do this I will do it,” the South African Broadcasting Corporation quoted Zuma as saying. - Sapa

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