/ 23 September 2008

‘Crisis? What crisis?’ asks ANC

Six of the 15 Cabinet ministers who quit on Tuesday, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, are willing to serve again, the African National Congress (ANC) said on Tuesday, adding that there was ”no crisis”.

The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mluleki George, on Tuesday afternoon confirmed to the Mail & Guardian Online that he had also tendered his resignation.

Mosiuoa Lekota, Minister of Defence, said the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) had accepted Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling that fingered President Thabo Mbeki and the Cabinet for misconduct, but it had not bothered asking Cabinet members for their side of the story.

”He [Nicholson] said we violated our oath in office without any regard to our rights. Instead of meeting with us, the NEC went ahead and endorsed the judgement and on that basis resolved to act as it did [by sacking Mbeki on the weekend],” Lekota told the M&G Online.

”Once the NEC endorses that judgement we are disqualified from sitting in any legislature or Parliament and representing people. If you are implicated like this, in something that is a crime, there is no way we can sit in the House in good faith when we have broken our oath of office.”

He said the NEC should have recalled ”all of us”, adding: ”There is no way in which the NEC could do that and not accept the consequences.”

Asked if he was not defying Mbeki and ANC president Jacob Zuma — who have called on Cabinet ministers not to resign — Lekota said it was none of their business.

”I don’t need Thabo Mbeki to think for me. I don’t need Jacob Zuma to think for me. How can I look people in the face [after this judgement and decision by the NEC]? This affects our families and the communities we live in. I can’t represent an organisation that has taken the decision that I broke my oath of office.”

George quashed rumours that he was considering starting a separate political party, saying he would continue to work for the ANC. ‘We fought for freedom and we will continue doing that.”

He said Tuesday’s mass resignation of the members of the executive did not take place in unison.

‘I discussed my decision with no one except my wife and children and obviously the minister of defence. It is not correct to say that people acted in a mob spirit. We are not students. We are adults who think about what we do.”

No crisis
”There is no crisis,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday afternoon.

Asked whether Manuel would be reappointed in his position, Mantashe simply replied: ”We will not be appointing Trevor as the Minister of Finance. Trevor is the Minister of Finance.”

Manuel said he was ”surprised” that his resignation had caused confusion and volatility in the country’s markets.

”I was surprised that the news was received in the way that it was,” he told reporters in Pretoria on Tuesday through an audio link from Washington.

Manuel said he had become aware of the ”fire and brimstone” that his resignation had evoked when he got off an aircraft in Washington and turned on his cellphone to see a number of missed calls.

”People in the market assumed I had jumped ship.”

He said he had not expected this reaction as it was common practice in other democratic countries for Cabinet ministers to resign if their head of state did.

”I hoped I would persuade more of my colleagues so we could all act together in principle.”

”It [his resignation] was without any malice or rancour … without any attempt to be factional.”

”I am more than prepared to serve. I am hoping all the formalities will be concluded … and when we next speak I will still speak to you as minister of finance,” he said, adding that he would not be surprised if, by Friday, he had taken a fresh oath of office.

Manuel said he did not believe there would be any ”seismic shifts” in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement — to be released on October 21 — resulting from the change in the country’s leadership.

ANC moved ‘with speed’
Mantashe did not want to comment on whether he believed the Presidency had been irresponsible to issue the statement announcing the resignations, which immediately saw the rand fall sharply.

The currency recovered when the Treasury announced that Manuel was willing to stay on.

”I think that question must be directed to the president. We don’t want to make any assumptions. We give people the benefit of the doubt but we must correct any [wrong] perceptions,” said Mantashe.

He added that the ANC had moved ”with speed” to correct any wrong perceptions that resulted from the Presidency’s statement.

”That is not a sign of a crisis; it is a sign of an organised organisation,” said Mantashe.

He added that he hoped there would no more resignations. ”If there are any, we would go back to those ministers and talk to them.”

Tuesday’s other resignations were:

  • Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota;
  • Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad;
  • Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils;
  • Minister of Correctional Services Ngconde Balfour;
  • Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin;
  • Minister of Science and Technology Mosibudi Mangena;
  • Minister of Public Works Thoko Didiza;
  • Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi; and
  • Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

Deputy ministers who resigned:

  • Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad;
  • Deputy Minister of Finance Jabu Moleketi; and
  • Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Loretta Jacobus.

The resignation of Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena, who is also the president of the Azanian People’s Organisation and who announced his resignation on Monday, was a ”function of discussion between the ANC and Azapo”, said Mantashe.

He did not want to be drawn on candidates for the vacant positions, saying only the ANC was ready to fill those positions.

Turmoil in the markets
The slew of resignations caused confusion and volatility in the country’s financial markets, which fell after news of the resignations. The rand extended its losses to more than 2,5%, bonds fell sharply and the blue-chip JSE securities exchange top-40 index plunged more than 4%.

T-Sec economist Mike Schussler said: ”He [Manuel] resigns and then in the next hour he says he may be prepared to stay on. He should have announced his situation upfront — now people in the market are really confused.”

As a consequence, there had been tremendous pressure on the rand, he said.

Split in the party
The ANC NEC decided on Saturday to remove Mbeki from office after a high court ruling that he may have been involved in a political plot against ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

The demise of Mbeki was the climax of a long and bitter battle with Zuma, which has seriously split the formerly monolithic party.

Parliament is expected to appoint Motlanthe as interim president on Thursday until a general election next year, which Zuma is widely expected to win.

Mbeki’s resignation followed accusations — which he denies — of meddling in a long-running graft case against his rival.

Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni will stay on, his spokesperson said.

Zuma has tried to reassure foreign investors he would not bow to pressure from leftist union allies to shift away from business-friendly policies.

He has made clear his backing for Motlanthe and pledged on Monday that the party would ensure a smooth transition and unchanged economic policy.