'Mbeki will be pushed on to his sword'

The African National Congress and its alliance partners will decide whether to oust President Thabo Mbeki in a series of meetings starting this week, the Sunday Times reported.

In the wake of a damming High Court judgement that let Mbeki’s bitter foe, Jacob Zuma, off the hook on Friday, the national working committee will be the first to discuss Mbeki’s fate on Monday, ahead of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting starting on Friday.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party (SACP) also announced that they would convene meetings this week to discuss Mbeki’s future as president.

An unnamed ANC official told the paper that: “Mbeki will be pushed on to his sword if he can’t fall on his sword.”

Following this week’s meetings, officials from all three alliance partners will meet on September 24 to formulate a common position to be presented to Mbeki.

“The most obvious one would be to appoint a delegation that will go and see him to ask him to step down,” a senior ANC official told the Sunday Times.

City Press newspaper quoted Nathi Mthethwa, ANC chief whip in Parliament, as saying it was no longer a question of if, but when, the party would move against Mbeki.

He said when Parliament reconvened in two weeks, ANC MPs would discuss how to deal with Mbeki.

“As a leader of the ANC, you cannot be implicated of [sic] plotting the downfall of your comrade and people then pretend as if nothing has happened,” he said.

Independent Group newspapers, quoting anonymous ANC sources, said moderates in the party had already secured an agreement that Mbeki would step down and be replaced by Zuma now, without calling an early election.

According to the Constitution, the president must be elected from among members of the National Assembly, which means the ANC will have to amend its parliamentary list and have Zuma sworn in as an MP before he can be voted in.

“An [Assembly] election to fill a vacancy in the office of president must be held at a time and on a date determined by the president of the Constitutional Court, but not more than 30 days after the vacancy
occurs,” the Constitution says.

The Constitution says no person may hold office as president for more than two terms. If Zuma does step in now—before the election in 2009—the interim period will not count as a term.

If Mbeki does not step down voluntarily, the Constitution allows for two-thirds majority of the National Assembly to vote him out of office.

However this can be done only on the grounds of a serious violation of the Constitution or the law, serious misconduct, or inability to perform the functions of office.

Anyone removed from office for either of the first two counts “may not receive any benefits of that office”, such as a pension.

Though Mbeki himself has not reacted to the Zuma ruling, his office said in a statement on Friday that the Presidency was unaware of any fact that might have led Nicholson to conclude that the executive had
interfered with the National Prosecuting Authority.

ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said on Saturday that the NEC had decided earlier in the year that Mbeki should serve the rest of his term.

He told reporters that did not know whether the matter would be on the agenda for Friday’s meeting.

“Only the secretary general determines agenda items for the NEC meetings,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson on Friday upheld a challenge by Zuma, ruling that a decision to prosecute him on fraud and corruption charges was invalid.

Nicholson agreed with Zuma that the case against him appeared to be part of a strategy linked to the rivalry between himself and Mbeki for leadership of the ANC.

He said the timing of Zuma’s being recharged shortly after being elected president of the ANC in December 2007 was “most unfortunate”.

“This factor, together with the suspension of [prosecutions chief] Mr [Vusi] Pikoli, who was supposed to be independent and immune from
executive interference, persuade me that the most plausible inference is that the baleful political influence was continuing,” Nicholson said.
- Sapa

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