September 20, 2008

Mbeki to resign

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is being forced out of office early after a bitter struggle with his rival and successor, Jacob Zuma, over the fallout from a U.S.$30 billion arms deal. Shortly after Mbeki's party, the African National Congress (ANC), announced that it had decided to "recall"
him, South Africa's presidency released a statement saying "the president has obliged and will step down after all constitutional requirements have been met." Mbeki's second and final five-year term was scheduled to expire only next April.

Neither the party nor Mbeki has given any clear roadmap indicating when Mbeki will resign, who will replace him or how long the process will take. Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told a televised news conference that South Africa's constitution was "silent" on what happened when a president stepped down.

The constitutional problem is aggravated by the announcement of several cabinet ministers, possibly including Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to step down together with Mbeki.

South African presidents are elected by parliament, normally at the time a new government is constituted after an election. Mantashe said parliament would now have to "look at the formula" and "develop" a system for handling the situation. He also said the party had opted not to use the sections of the constitution under which parliament could either pass a formal vote of no confidence in Mbeki or remove him from office. It wanted instead to "try to resolve the problem politically."

The roots of the crisis over Mbeki's leadership, and his party's loss of confidence in him, lie in allegations against Zuma of bribery and corruption around the arms deal. The controversy has, in the words of a high court judge last week, become a "cancer that is devouring the body politic and the reputation for integrity built up so assiduously after the fall of apartheid." The judge was delivering judgement in a case in which prosecutors accused Zuma of corruption arising from the arms deal. Zuma's supporters accuse Mbeki of carrying out a vendetta against Zuma.

Mantashe made it clear at the news conference that the decision to recall Mbeki had been prompted by fear that he, his cabinet and prosecutors would try to reverse a finding by the judge which suggested that cabinet ministers - and by inference Mbeki - had improperly influenced prosecutors in Zuma's case. Mantashe said prosecutors and the cabinet had been "hitting at the core issues" when they announced this week they wanted to contest the finding. The party wanted to ensure that "contestations"
within the party were minimised. "We are trying to bring back stability and certainty," he said.


The Statement by the National Executive Committee of the ANC, dated September 20, 2008, reads as follows:

Over the past two days, the National Executive Committee of the ANC has deliberated on the Pietermaritzburg Court judgement on the 12th of September by Judge Chris Nicholson. In particular, we have focused on the implications of the judgement for our movement, and for our people as a whole. The judgement has had a profound impact on many aspects of our legal system. It has obviously also had an impact on the affairs of the ANC.
We wish to assert to you that our most important task as a revolutionary movement is the stability of our country and the unity and cohesion of the ANC. Our movement has been through a trying period and we are determined to heal the rifts that may exist. In the light of this, and after a long and difficult discussion, the ANC has decided to recall the President of the Republic before his term of office expires.

Our decision has been communicated to him. The formalities are now subject of a Parliamentary process and, we can assure you, will take place in a way which ensures smooth running of government.

We acknowledge with deep admiration all the great strides our country has made under the stewardship of President Mbeki. He remains a loyal cadre of our movement and we will continue to work closely with him on matters relating to our desire to achieve a developmental state.

We will follow with precision all the constitutional requirements to ensure that interim arrangements are in place to ensure the smooth running of the government. In the coming days, the President of the ANC will meet with ANC deployees in government to assure them that the NEC would wish for them to remain in Government.

To the citizens of South Africa, we make the commitment that we share their desire for stability and for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa.
We believe that our decision is in the interests of making that a secure reality. (African National Congress, Johannesburg)

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