South Africa’s government said on Tuesday it remained firmly under the control of President Thabo Mbeki, dismissing concerns that his humiliating defeat in the battle to lead the ruling party had made him a lame duck.
Mbeki, who has governed the country since taking over from Nelson Mandela in 1999, lost control of the African National Congress (ANC) last month when delegates overwhelmingly chose Jacob Zuma as the party’s new leader.
The loss prompted widespread speculation that the Zuma camp would pressure Cabinet members to switch allegiance, effectively establishing a parallel government and preventing Mbeki from governing for his final two years in office.
The Constitution prohibits Mbeki from running for a third term in 2009. Zuma, who does not have a formal position in the government, is seen as the frontrunner to succeed him.
Political uncertainty has been fuelling investor fears that Zuma, who has strong ties to labour unions and the South African Communist Party, might heed his leftist backers and alter the centrist policies credited with supporting the country’s economic boom.
Zuma has assured investors there is no need to worry, saying that core government policies would not change if he led Africa’s economic powerhouse.
Government spokesperson Themba Maseko set out to reassure investors that Mbeki was firmly in control of the government.
Business as usual
”It is business as usual. Cabinet is running under the authority of the president,” he told a news conference in Pretoria after the first regular Cabinet meeting since the party leadership vote.
”We are confident that the business of government will continue with the support of the ruling party,” Maseko said.
Zuma is due to go on trial in August for racketeering, money laundering, fraud and corruption in connection with the country’s arms deal. He has said he will stand down as ANC leader if convicted.
Speculation has been growing that the ANC, now controlled by pro-Zuma officials, would pressure Mbeki to bring ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe into the Cabinet, possibly replacing Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Some have argued that Motlanthe, who also tilts to the left, could become a second deputy president alongside Mlambo-Ngcuka. South Africa’s first post-apartheid government under Mandela had two deputy presidents.
Motlanthe’s entry into the Cabinet would give the ANC direct access to state power and open the way for him to become president if Zuma were forced to pull out of the race because of legal troubles.
It could also ease growing concerns that Mbeki and the Zuma-controlled ANC might engage in a divisive power struggle that would distract the government from its priorities of fighting poverty, HIV/Aids and crime.
Maseko said the question of whether to give Motlanthe an influential government position was not discussed at the Cabinet meeting and would not be covered in a broader government strategy meeting this week.
”When he [Mbeki] is ready, if there is a concrete proposal, he will consider it,” Maseko said. – Reuters