South African President Thabo Mbeki came under mounting pressure over the weekend to explain his suspension of the country’s top prosecutor, a controversial move weeks before a crunch vote on his leadership of the African National Congress (ANC).
”Tell us the truth, Mr President,” the Sunday Times newspaper implored in a front-page headline, as opposition leaders accused Mbeki of ”misleading the nation”.
South Africa has been thrown into a political crisis after it emerged that Mbeki suspended National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) chief Vusi Pikoli days after the NPA obtained arrest and search warrants for police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi.
The revelations appeared to discredit the presidency’s initial explanation that Pikoli was suspended because of ”an irretrievable breakdown” in his working relationship with Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Brigitte Mabandla.
The affair has also raised questions about Mbeki’s relationship with the country’s top cop — Selebi is also the head of Interpol — who has been accused of being cosy with criminals.
The NPA on Friday confirmed that it had obtained two warrants against Selebi prior to Pikoli’s suspension on September 23.
It also revealed that Mokotedi Mpshe, the acting head of the NPA, had cancelled the warrant for Selebi’s arrest pending his review of the case against the police commissioner.
The M&G has established that the charges levelled against Selebi include corruption, fraud, racketeering and defeating the ends of justice.
A senior source in the justice department said the corruption charge derived from allegations that Selebi had received bribes of ”hundreds of thousands of rands” from Glenn Agliotti, the alleged organised crime boss whom Selebi described as his ”friend, finish and klaar”.
Mbeki last year downplayed the allegations against Selebi, saying he could be trusted to act against the police chief if necessary.
Opposition parties this week heaped scorn on the official version of Pikoli’s suspension.
”The nation has been misled,” said Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille. ”It has all to do with the Selebi affair.”
”The perception that is being created now is that, indeed there is a friendship that we don’t understand between the president and Selebi,” according to the national chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi.
”It is quite clear that he [Mbeki] has intervened to stop the Selebi warrant and that in itself constitutes a crisis,” said the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, urging Mbeki to provide clarification.
In a statement, the government ”categorically denied” Mbeki suspended Pikoli in an attempt to protect Selebi and urged South Africans to await the results of a commission of inquiry into Pikoli’s fitness for office.
An irritated Mbeki, when confronted by a television journalist over the affair, merely pointed out that a president does ”not handle warrants.”
The furore comes ahead of a crunch ANC party conference in December, at which the party is set to elect a new leader.
Mbeki, who has served two five-year terms as party leader, appears to be courting a third term over archrival, ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma.
The NPA is investigating Zuma following the conviction in 2005 of his former financial adviser for fraud relating to South Africa’s biggest-to-date arms acquisition deal. That conviction led to Mbeki sacking Zuma as state deputy president, a decision that forged deep divisions in the party.
Analysts have speculated that Pikoli’s suspension may also be related to the NPA’s failure to bring fresh corruption charges against Zuma. A first corruption case against Zuma was thrown out of court late last year over delays.
Gauteng ANC vote
Meanwhile, the ANC in Gauteng has elected as its chairperson the province’s finance minister Paul Mashatile.
Provincial housing minister Nomvula Mokonyane was elected deputy chairperson at the ANC Gauteng’s 10th provincial conference in Midrand.
The three-day conference was attended by more than 3 000 delegates. They re-elected, unopposed, David Makhura as provincial secretary, Mandla Nkomfe as deputy secretary and Lindiwe Maseko as treasurer.
Spokesperson Hope Papo said voting for additional members of the provincial executive would take place on Monday, with the results to be announced on Tuesday.
Business Day reported on Monday that Mashatile’s election can be seen as a small victory for Tokyo’s Sexwale’s bid to lead the ANC.
Mashatile is believed to support Sexwale, the business daily said, but rank-and-file members of the party have shown support for Zuma.
The paper said the conference erupted into applause when Zuma’s name was mentioned, while Sexwale got a more muted response. – Sapa-DPA, Sapa, Staff Reporter