Parliament convenes to name new president

South Africa’s Parliament convened on Thursday to elect the nation’s third post-apartheid president, after the dramatic ouster of Thabo Mbeki by his own party, just months before the end of his term.

The ruling party’s second in command, Kgalema Motlanthe, was expected to win the secret ballot, placing him at the helm of South Africa as the nation comes to grips with its worst political crisis since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Known as “the elder brother” for his level-headed approach to even the roughest political waters, Motlanthe was one of the first to enter the house and walked in quietly, with no fanfare.

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma and other political heavyweights sat in a packed public gallery, while groups of parliamentarians sang and danced as they entered the house.

After the vote in Parliament, Motlanthe is set to be sworn in later in the afternoon.

He will guide the country toward elections due next year while aiming to bridge the gaping divide within the ANC.

Motlanthe attended Mbeki’s last Cabinet meeting Wednesday, trying to send a message of continuity within the government after a third of the county’s top leaders, including the country’s deputy president, resigned in solidarity.

While it is expected that seven will stay on in the new administration, several others have said they are not willing to.

Nevertheless, party chief Zuma, who in December 2007 replaced Mbeki as ANC leader, on Wednesday insisted that the resignations had not sent the country into crisis.

“There is no problem, the situation is under control, there must be no panic,” he said on e.tv news.

As party leader, Zuma is widely expected to be voted into the country’s top office in elections next year.

Court ruling
Mbeki bowed to a call to resign from the presidency following a damning court ruling that hinted he was instrumental in a decision to prosecute his long-time rival, Zuma, whom he fired as the country’s deputy president in 2005.

He has denied the allegations and is appealing that aspect of the ruling in a bid to clear his name from the insinuation of judicial meddling.

In a farewell letter to his Cabinet published Thursday in the Star, Mbeki said he had accepted the ANC’s decision in the interests of South Africa and without “resistance or rancour”.

The sudden end to Mbeki’s nine-year administration leaves an embarrassing stain on the legacy of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

The political turmoil has rattled the economy, with currency markets shaken by the decision of widely respected finance minister Trevor Manuel to resign with the other top officials. Manuel’s spokesperson later made it clear that he was ready to serve the new administration.

Zuma said the decision to recall Mbeki had been “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” taken in the party’s history.

The outgoing president had been increasingly at loggerheads with his party, which split into two camps behind him and Zuma when he made his failed bid to run for a third term as party president at a crunch ANC conference last year.—AFP

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