Mbeki's final Cabinet meeting under way

President Thabo Mbeki officially started his final Cabinet briefing at 4.40pm at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Sunday.

After a tumultuous week which ended with Mbeki being recalled by the African National Congress, his Cabinet gathered with him ahead of his State of the Nation Address at 7.30pm.

The mood inside the meeting room was jovial and upbeat with the Cabinet ministers, government officials and high ranking ANC officials chatting and laughing.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, who was booed at the ANC conference in Polokwane, joked about South Africa’s poor performance at the Olympic Games, and there was brief chatter about the Soccer World Cup.

“The World Cup is not going anywhere,” said Mbeki, dressed in a blue and white shirt and collar with a dark jacket, and flanked by his deputy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, dressed in bright cerise, during the five minutes in which the media were allowed into the room.

Mbeki thanked reporters for their attendance and they were then asked to leave the room.

Mbeki said on Saturday that he would step down once all constitutional requirements had been met.

Further details are expected to be revealed in the address.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe—who recently became a minister without portfolio in the presidency—were present at the meeting.

Mixed emotions
The ousting of Mbeki generated mixed emotions in the country he led for nine years with mixed results.

Many expressed revulsion at Mbeki being hounded from office on the basis of a judge’s inference that he interfered in the prosecution of African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma.

In his ruling on 12 September, High Court Judge Chris Nicholson said it appeared that Mbeki and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Brigitte Mabandla had colluded with prosecutors against Zuma as part of the “titanic power struggle” within the ANC. Mbeki has indignantly denied the accusations.

The charges were linked to a multibillion-rand arms deal.
Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, is already serving a 15-year jail term on similar charges.

“It is revenge, pure and simple,” Helen Zille, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said. “It has
everything to do with the internal battles of the ANC and nothing to do with the interest of South Africa.”

Others lamented the timing of his axing, calling the decision to dump a president, whose management of the economy has won widespread praise, reckless at a time of turbulence in financial markets.

But some also welcomed the departure of the inscrutable leader, whose legacy as a champion of Africa’s interests and prudent economic management has been marred by his lack of leadership on HIV/Aids and crime, his intolerance of dissent and his tendency to reward loyalty by turning a blind eye to corruption and incompetence.

‘He divided our country’
“The ANC’s decision to remove the [soon-to-be-former] president Thabo Mbeki was the right thing to do,” the Sunday Times concluded. “He a bad president. He divided our country.”

The move was also welcomed as ending the existence of two centres of power in South Africa, since Mbeki was ousted as leader of the ruling party by Zuma nine months ago.

Although Zuma is unlikely to take over as president until the general elections, which the ANC is expected to win, the post of acting president is expected to be filled by his ally, Parliament Speaker Baleka Mbete.

In the end, Mbeki’s rout was less tumultuous than had been feared.

Few had expected the headstrong 66-year-old leader to go quietly, or not until the outcome of the state’s appeal against the Zuma ruling had been heard.

His decision to resign rather than face a vote of no confidence or impeachment by Parliament will be welcomed by stakeholders, like Fifa president Joseph Blatter, who called for a smooth transition in the 2010 World Cup host nation.

A much-feared mass walkout by Cabinet ministers in sympathy with Mbeki was also starting to look unlikely, with only Mlambo-Ngcuka openly threatening to resign after the ANC appealed to them not to abandon ship.

The party has also ruled out messy early elections, amid warnings from analysts that the public is likely to judge the party harshly for devoting its energies to internal squabbles instead of the needs of the poor.

While a defeat for the party of Nelson Mandela in April is deemed almost impossible, the ANC could see its majority significantly reduced.

Cognizant of that danger, Zuma himself had urged the ANC to hold off on Mbeki, joking that there was no point in “beating a dead snake”.

The party defied him and went for broke by “burying the snake.”

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