/ 25 September 2008

Motlanthe moves to steady the ship

Kgalema Motlanthe took office on Thursday as South Africa’s president and stressed he would keep to the policies of his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who resigned in the worst political crisis since apartheid.

In a move to reassure investors rattled by the crisis, former trade union leader Motlanthe reappointed respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, whose resignation on Tuesday hit the rand currency and stocks.

Mines Minister Buyelwa Sonjica was also reappointed.

Motlanthe, deputy leader of the ANC, made only one change in key economic portfolios, appointing Brigitte Mabandla to replace Mbeki loyalist Alec Erwin at the head of the public enterprise ministry responsible for troubled power utility Eskom.

Motlanthe was overwhelmingly elected earlier by Parliament in a secret ballot and will serve as interim president until a general election next year when ANC leader Jacob Zuma is expected to become head of state.

The ANC withdrew its backing for Mbeki on Saturday after a judge suggested he had interfered in a graft case against Zuma, his arch rival, who toppled him as head of the party last December. In his acceptance speech after being sworn in, Motlanthe also stressed continuity with the policies of Mbeki, who presided over the longest period of growth in South African history.

“We will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa steady and that have ensured sustained growth,” the new president said.

But he vowed to intensify efforts to increase growth and job creation and “ensure that the benefits of growth are equally shared by all our people.”

Army of poor
Mbeki’s failure to bring the fruits of black majority rule to the army of poor was a leading cause of his unpopularity with the leftist ANC backers of Zuma, his long term rival.

Almost one-third of South Africa’s Cabinet stepped down on Tuesday out of loyalty to Mbeki, highlighting the worst infighting in the party’s history.

Motlanthe, a quiet spoken leftist intellectual and ally of Zuma, faces huge challenges including slowing economic growth and high inflation. Officials said on Thursday consumer inflation hit its highest level in August since before the end of apartheid, at 13,7%.

Reflecting the ANC’s dominance of Parliament, Motlanthe won 269 votes, compared to 50 for Joe” Seremane, the candidate of the opposition Democratic Alliance.

The upheaval in the ANC, climax of a power struggle between Mbeki and Zuma, has raised concerns of instability in Africa’s biggest economy and a possible split in the formerly monolithic ruling party.

Motlanthe is widely respected by both radical leftists and business tycoons within the ANC.

He will try to heal the worst rifts in the history of the party because of the battle between Mbeki and Zuma, which has overshadowed pressing issues such as widespread poverty and crime and an HIV/Aids epidemic ravaging millions.

Radical policy changes under Motlanthe in the short transitional period are unlikely but foreign investors eager for stability and a continuity of economic policy will be watching closely for clues on whether the ANC will change course.

The populist Zuma is trying to reassure foreign investors he would not stray from business-friendly economic policies but is under pressure from left-leaning union allies to alleviate poverty through more government spending.

New ministers were:

  • Defence: Charles Nqakula
  • Justice and Constitutional Development: Enver Surty
  • Health: Barbara Hogan
  • Safety and Security: Nathi Mthethwa
  • Public Enterprises: Brigitte Mabandla
  • Public Works: Geoff Doidge
  • Intelligence: Siyabonga Cwele

Those who retained their positions were:

  • Social Development: Zola Skweyiya
  • Education: Naledi Pandor
  • Labour: Membathisi Mdladlana
  • Correctional Services: Ngconde Balfour
  • Housing: Lindiwe Sisulu
  • Arts and Culture: Pallo Jordan
  • Sport and Recreation: Makhenkesi Stofile
  • Environmental Affairs and Tourism: Marthinus van Schalkwyk
  • Water Affairs and Forestry: Lindiwe Hendricks
  • Minerals and Energy, Buyelwa Sonjica
  • Home Affairs, Noziviwe Mapisa-Nqakula

In his acceptance speech to the National Assembly after being sworn in by Chief Justice Pius Langa, Motlanthe said it was not his desire to “deviate from what is working”.

“It is not for me to reinvent policy. Nor do I intend to reshape either Cabinet or the public service,” said Motlanthe.

“We will not allow that the work of government be interrupted. We will not allow the stability of our democratic order to be compromised.

“And we will not allow the confidence that our people have in the ability of the state to respond to their needs to be undermined,” he said.

Government remained on course to deliver on its commitments to the poor, who relied on it daily for the fulfilment of their basic needs and for the provision of important services like health, education, and social security.

“We remain on course to halve unemployment and poverty by 2014. We remain determined to stamp out crime, violence and abuse, whomever it affects and wherever it manifests itself.

“We remain committed to building safer communities and protecting the vulnerable in our society from abuse.

“But in doing so, we need all our people to work with, and within, the criminal justice system so that together we stamp out crime,” Motlanthe said.

“We are here to assure all those on our continent and in the world that we will continue to meet our international obligations.”

“We remain on course to host in 2010 the best Fifa World Cup ever — an African World Cup.

“We fully expect to meet every commitment our nation has made to the football world.

“In a turbulent global economy, we will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa steady, and that have ensured sustained growth,” he said.