Deputy ANC leader Kgalema Motlanthe was sworn in as South Africa’s president on Thursday to replace Thabo Mbeki, who resigned amid the worst political crisis since the end of apartheid.
Motlanthe was overwhelmingly elected by Parliament in a secret ballot and will serve as interim president until next year’s election.
The ANC withdrew its backing for Mbeki after a judge suggested he had interfered in a graft case against his rival, party leader Jacob Zuma, who is widely expected to become president in a general election next year.
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.
Mbeki presided over South Africa’s longest period of economic growth during his nine years in office and foreign investors hope the new leadership will stick to his pro-business policies.
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 since before the end of apartheid in August, at 13,7%.
Reflecting the ANC’s dominance of Parliament, Motlanthe won 269 votes from members of Parliament, compared to 50 for the candidate of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
ANC parliamentarians greeted the announcement of the vote with cheers and clapping.
Fraser-Moleketi, Didiza resign
Two of the ministers who resigned but who the ANC said were willing to serve in Cabinet again, indicated on Thursday they were in fact not available for re-appointment.
Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Public Works Minister Thoko Didiza have both resigned as members of Parliament.
This is contrary to a statement by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe earlier this week that Didiza and Fraser-Moleketi were among seven ministers who resigned following Mbeki’s departure, but who were still available for re-appointment.
Fourteen Cabinet ministers resigned in total, but Mantashe said seven of them were willing to serve in Kgalema Motlanthe’s Cabinet.
After the announcement of the 14 resignations, Mantashe told reporters he had done ”a simple exercise” and phoned all those ministers who had resigned.
”We spoke to everyone on that list. Having done that, we can confirm that there’s no crisis. Six of the ministers have confirmed they would not come back,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.
But Fraser-Moleketi’s spokesperson Ramona Baijnath said: ”That was misinformation. She’s not available at all. They [the ANC] had it wrong.”
Didiza’s spokesperson, Thami Mchunu, said she had resigned.
”The minister has resigned as a member of Parliament. She has resigned from the National Assembly as an MP effective from last night [Wednesday].
”If the minister is a not a member of the National Assembly, she cannot be a member of the executive. Do you get that?,” he asked, declining to answer any other questions.
Fraser-Moleketi’s office announced her resignation as MP in a statement.
”The former minister has expressed her availability to assist the incoming administration in the hand-over process and with any other assistance that might be sought from her,” the statement read.
She thanked Thabo Mbeki for the opportunity to serve the country under him.
”I would like to express my unequivocal appreciation to the former president for his inspired leadership and the confidence that he placed in me by appointing me to various ministerial positions,” she said.
Fraser-Moleketi congratulated Motlanthe, saying they had had a ”long and productive working relationship spanning the course of her political career”.
She added that she would always remain a ”committed member of the ANC”.
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.
”The ANC for some time has spoken about the need to maintain the [economic] policies that have been in place, so as things stand now, one shouldn’t necessarily expect a major policy change,” said Leon Myburgh, sub-Saharan specialist at Citigroup.
”Motlanthe himself of course has always been a bit of a quiet, behind the scenes figure, so the next few months will be interesting to monitor him, and what he says and his actions.”
It was not immediately clear when Motlanthe would name his new Cabinet although investors are keenly watching to see if highly respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel will be reappointed.
Motlanthe, a former mine union leader, 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 pandemic 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.
Meanwhile, it emerged on Thursday that Zuma will oppose Mbeki’s application to join an appeal against the Pietermaritzburg High Court judgement suggesting he was part of a plot against Zuma.
Zuma on Thursday filed notice, in the Constitutional Court, of his intention to oppose the application, according to a statement from his lawyer Michael Hulley.
Mbeki filed papers on Monday applying to join the Constitutional Court appeal brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
He argued that certain parts of Justice Chris Nicholson’s judgement on the Zuma matter were ”unfair and unjust”.
”I respectfully submit that it was not necessary for the learned judge to make the findings I am appealing against, or seeking to set aside, in order for him to decide the real issue that was before him.
‘In any event, it was improper for the court to make such far-reaching findings concerning me.”
In his judgement, Nicholson found that the executive might have interfered in the decision to prosecute Zuma, who faced racketeering, corruption, money-laundering and fraud charges related to the multibillion-rand arms deal.
”I am … not convinced that the applicant [Zuma] was incorrect in averring political meddling in his prosecution,” Nicholson noted in finding the prosecution of Zuma invalid. – Reuters, Sapa