September 24, 2008

Country rocked by resignation of ministers

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel is among 11 Cabinet ministers and three deputy ministers who have resigned. President Thabo Mbeki had received their letters of resignation, "which, regretfully, he has had to accept", the Presidency said in a statement on Tuesday, Sept 23.

The Cabinet members who have resigned include Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who earlier in the day announced her decision to leave her position, to which she was appointed after African National Congress president Jacob Zuma was released from his responsibilities as deputy president in 2005. One of the reasons Mlambo-Ngcuka gave was to allow a new president the opportunity to choose his or her own deputy.

Tuesday's other resignations: 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 resignations will be effective from the day that the president's resignation takes effect [Thursday]," the Presidency said. "All the ministers have expressed their availability to assist the incoming administration in the handover process and any other assistance that might be sought from them.
"President Mbeki thanked the deputy president, the ministers and deputy ministers for their dedicated service to the nation and wished them well in their future endeavours," it said. The Presidency denied a report by the South African Broadcasting Corporation that the entire Cabinet had resigned.

It was already known that Erwin would not stay after the next election, and Essop Pahad made his own announcement on Monday, but the big surprise was Manuel, who said himself two days ago that he had no intention of quitting. The removal of Manuel, who has been responsible -- with Mbeki's keen support -- for the economic stability of the country is the biggest surprise, and seems likely to portend some significant departures from current financial policy. South African markets 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%. However, Manuel's spokesperson said he is willing to serve under the country's new president in any capacity.

"The minister has resigned as a member of the Cabinet and felt duty-bound to do so as he served at the pleasure of the president, and President [Thabo] Mbeki had resigned," Treasury spokesperson Thoraya Pandy said. "However, the minister has indicated a strong willingness to assist and to serve the new administration in whatever capacity they may ask of him," she added.

The rand recouped some of its earlier losses on confirmation that Manuel was willing to serve in a new Cabinet. The news saw the rand, which had earlier lost more than 20 cents against the dollar, regain some of its earlier composure. At 1.50pm the rand was bid at R8,0540 to the dollar from a previous close of R7,9716 after testing an intraday worst level earlier of R8,2115.

The ANC-dominated Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of effecting Mbeki's resignation from Thursday September 25, with only 10 votes against the motion. ANC deputy chief Kgalema Motlanthe was named as the party's candidate to take over as head of state. Parliament will on Thursday vote on his election, and he will be sworn in later in the day.

Mbeki, who announced his resignation on Sunday after pressure from the ANC, attempted to salvage his reputation in the Constitutional Court, as he challenged a court ruling that he says cost him his job as president. (M&G)


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