SA contemplates life after Mbeki

South Africans are contemplating the end of a political era this weekend after President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday announced his decision to resign after nine years in office.

A special meeting of the Cabinet will be held in Pretoria on Sunday afternoon as speculation mounted about which Cabinet ministers might resign once Mbeki did so.

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said he could not confirm any resignations.

“Nobody knows that ... I cannot confirm that. We don’t know,’’ Maseko said on Saturday night.

He confirmed, however, that the Cabinet would meet in Pretoria at 5pm on Sunday.

On Saturday, the ANC announced that it would recall Mbeki from the presidency following the party’s weekend three-day national executive committee meeting discussing Mbeki’s future.

Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga had indicated that Mbeki would comply with the NEC’s decision and “step down after all constitutional requirements have been met”.

Mbeki will address the nation in a broadcast on South African Broadcasting Corporation television and radio from 7.30pm on Sunday.

Institute for Democracy in SA’s political analyst, Judith February, said the country could ill afford an “exodus” of ministers.

Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Steven Friedman, said: “If a high number of senior civil servants together with ministers leave government, then we are likely to face a crisis.”

However, political analyst Tinyiko Maluleke said a majority of Cabinet ministers were likely to stay.

“There is a distinction between threats made by those ministers and what they would actually do now that the decision [to recall Mbeki] had been made,” he said.

Earlier, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said ANC president Jacob Zuma would meet with ANC deployees in government to assure them that the party wished them to remain.

Mantashe told journalists in Kempton Park that the party would respect the decision of ministers who might choose to resign.

“We cannot chain them to the process.”

By Saturday night the only confirmed announcement of an imminent resignation was from Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Her spokesperson Denzel Taylor said that Mlambo-Ngcuka would hand in her resignation when Mbeki handed in his.

Commenting on Saturday night whether early elections would be held, the Independent Electoral Commission said its programme for the elections in 2009 still stood.

“We have not received any word from Parliament about an early election so the timetable is as it is,” said spokesperson Kate Bapela.

It was also still not clear on Saturday night how long Mbeki would remain in office before Parliament elected his successor.

Had Mbeki been asked to resign with immediate effect, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, would have immediately became caretaker president.

Parliament would then have to elect a new president. Zuma cannot be elected as Mbeki’s replacement since the Constitution only allowed an MP to be elected president of the country.

‘We don’t create ruptures’
Mantashe was mum on Saturday as to whom would assume the presidency.

“The person in charge is Mbeki until he resigns because we don’t create ruptures and we don’t appoint a president on top of another president,” said Mantashe.

At the briefing Mantashe said the decision to recall the president was taken “as an effort to heal and unite the African National Congress”.

Mantashe said the decision was not a “punishment” for Mbeki, but 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.

In his ruling on 12 September, 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.

Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the NEC’s decision represented “the biggest challenge to South Africa since apartheid”; while the United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa said it was an act of “political barbarity”.

Democratic Alliance Leader Helen Zille raised concerns that the decision was an attempt to protect Zuma from possible prosecution on charges of fraud and corruption.

Mantashe said on Saturday that Mbeki was not shocked when told of the NEC decision.

“He didn’t display shock or any depression. He welcomed the news and agreed that he is going to participate in the process and the formalities.”

Mbeki became president in 1999, taking over from Nelson Mandela. He was the head of the ANC from 1997 until he lost a battle for power at the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane in December 2007, when Zuma, his former deputy president, became the head of the organisation.

On Saturday, Investment Solutions chief economist Chris Hart said that in the context of a global economy which was at risk of a meltdown, the ANC’s decision had the potential to cause economic instability.

Rand vulnerable
“If we start seeing investment pull-out, the rand is vulnerable because of the stage of the economic cycle. I’m not saying the rand will crash but there is a risk if the political risk escalates from here.”

South Africa would need to ensure that things settled down very quickly, said Hart.

Post-Polokwane, there was a “dimension of anarchy” in the ANC’s decision making.

“The party has become very introspective at the expense of the country as a whole,” said Hart.

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