/ 20 September 2008

ANC dumps Mbeki, moves to ‘heal rift’

South African President Thabo Mbeki has agreed to resign after the ANC announced that it would remove him from office before the end of his term.

”Following the decision of the national executive committee of the African National Congress to recall President Thabo Mbeki, the president has obliged and will step down after all constitutional requirements have been met,” the presidency said.

The move could collapse the government and prompt early elections.

Mbeki has been mired in accusations that he conspired to undermine ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

‘Our movement has been through a trying period and we are determined to heal the rift that might exist. In light of this and after a long and difficult discussion, the ANC has decided to recall the president of the republic before his term of office expires,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Kempton Park on the East Rand.

”Our decision has been communicated to him,” said Mantashe.

Mantashe said that Mbeki’s reaction to the news was ”normal”.

”He didn’t display shock or any depression. He welcomed the news and agreed that he is going to participate in the parliamentary process. If I said he was excited I would be exaggerating.”

Mantashe said the decision was taken ”as an effort to heal and unite the African National Congress”.

Mantashe said the decision was a political way to deal with the implications of Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling that Mbeki may have been involved in a political conspiracy against Zuma.

”The biggest worry of the ANC had been the question of a reversal of the closure of the chapter that the Nicholson judgement seemed to have promised.”

The National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to appeal the judgement had become a worry, said Mantashe.

”If pursued it will continue to be a point of division for the ANC.”

When asked whether a vote had been taken to reach the decision, Mantashe said: ”We discussed until we reached a consensus”.

When asked what the reaction would be if other Cabinet ministers were to resign, Mantashe said they were considered ”on the one hand, deployees who had mutual respect and commitment to the ANC, but on the other hand they were also individuals”.

Mlambo-Ngcuka stands by her man
Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will formally hand in her resignation if Mbeki resigns, her spokesperson said on Saturday.

Denzel Taylor said that Mlambo-Ngcuka would hand in her resignation depending on whether Mbeki hands in his resignation.

”I can confirm that the deputy president will resign if the president is asked to step down and resigns accordingly,” Taylor said.

”She was appointed by the president and has served him loyally. She feels that it is the right thing to do.”

‘Political barbarity’
The United Democratic Movement condemned the manner in which the ANC recalled Mbeki, describing it as ”an act of political barbarity”.

”To remove the head of state like this is an act of political barbarity that threatens to plunge the country into anarchy,” Bantu Holomisa said in a statement on Saturday.

”Here is a person who has not been accused of any crime, but he is being pushed out of office by a person who faces charges of fraud and corruption.”

Holomisa said the Mbeki legacy, in setting up institutions in the country and on the continent, would be remembered.

”Like any government they have had their flaws and their successes. His legacy will be the institutions that he put in place in the country and on the continent, such as Nepad and the revived African Union.”

The Young Communist League welcomed the ANC’s decision and appealed to Cabinet ministers not to resign.

”As YCL we believe that the ministers owe their allegiance to the Constitution and the citizens of our country, and not to an individual,” national secretary Buti Manamela said.

‘Political solution’
Helen Zille, head of the Democratic Alliance, said the decision meant the ANC’s internal battles had turned into a crisis for South Africa.

”ANC factionalism has long undermined government’s ability to deliver, and it now threatens to destabilise the entire country.”

She said the move was a clear attempt to find a ”political solution” to Jacob Zuma’s legal problems.

”Replacing President Mbeki with a Zuma proxy will open the way for them to ensure that he does not have to face a court of law,” she said.

”If Zuma is put above the law it will do more to undermine the Constitution than anything else.”

She said it was ”untenable” for Zuma to assume the presidency without being acquitted of corruption charges by a court of law.

”Judge Nicholson’s judgement was not an acquittal.”

Inkatha Freedom Party president Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the NEC’s decision represented the biggest challenge to SA since apartheid.

”The decision of the ANC obviously has serious ramifications for the country’s political, economic stability and statecraft. He said history would judge Mbeki as a ”towering figure” who consolidated President Nelson Mandela’s remarkable legacy and promoted the notion of an ”African Renaissance”.

He said having known Mbeki for nearly 30 years, it was clear to him that ”This is a man who cares deeply about South Africa’s developmental challenges, stable economic framework and her place in the world.

”My wife, family and Party join me in wishing President Mbeki and his wife, Zanele, God’s richest blessings and good fortune for their future life together.”

The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania said the ANC’s decision was not in the interest of the country, but was ”informed by its desire to preempt the appeal by the National Prosecuting Authority”.

PAC president Letlapa Mphahlel said that although the ANC had the right to deploy and recall party members, the move was informed by the party’s ”self-serving narrow interests”.

The Independent Democrats would like a clear indication of how the ANC would deal with the impact of Mbeki’s exit, ID leader Patricia de Lille said.

”We would like to see a clear plan by the ANC to deal with the impact Mbeki’s exit will have on the running of government, service delivery, economic stability and international relations.”

De Lille said it was important to have a plan in place for the ”likely departure of some ministers with Mbeki”.

Insiders in the party told the Mail & Guardian that the plan is to replace Mbeki with parliamentary Speaker and ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, but this will not be done through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence or by impeachment.

Removing Mbeki from the Presidency could rattle investors with whom he is popular because of his pro-business policies. But he has been on thin ice with powerful trade unions and other Zuma supporters, who accuse Mbeki of trying to undermine the man who replaced him as ANC leader.

Fired as Mbeki’s deputy president in 2005 after he was linked to alleged wrongdoing in the multimillion-rand arms deal, Zuma defeated Mbeki in a bitter leadership contest late last year that ended at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December. Zuma is seen as the front-runner to succeed him as head of state next year.

Mbeki is barred by the Constitution from a third term as state president.

The move to oust the president picked up speed after Judge Chris Nicholson last week in the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that corruption charges against Zuma were not legal, and said there had been high-level meddling in the case.

Zuma’s camp has branded the prosecution a political witch-hunt by Mbeki and his aides.

Mbeki, who has consistently denied he hatched a political conspiracy against Zuma, lashed out at his critics on Friday even as the NEC — which is dominated by Zuma allies — met to discuss his fate.

”It impoverishes our society that some resort to the tactic of advancing allegations with no fact to support these,” the president said in a statement issued by his office. He said he was not involved in the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to appeal against Nicholson’s ruling. – Reuters, Sapa