South Africa was plunged into political chaos today after 11 cabinet ministers, including internationally respected Finance Minster Trevor Manuel, resigned in support of Thabo Mbeki who was kicked out of office after losing a bitter power struggle within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Opposition parties termed the exodus, which also saw three deputy ministers leaving the government, a disaster for the country’s stability. Mr Mbeki is believed to have asked cabinet members to stay put in the interests of stability.
Independent analysts said it showed the depth of division within the ANC and predicted it could ultimately lead to a realignment of the ineffective opposition.
Analysts believe younger pro-Mbeki supporters, who now face years in the political wilderness, could be tempted to launch a new party.
“It now longer a split, it is a chasm… the ANC is hopelessly divided – even if some of these ministers will accept to serve a new president and go back in government for the sake of unity. They were asked not to do this, but made the gesture to show the depth of anger within the party,” said one ANC insider.
Ian Davidson, parliamentary chief whip of the opposition Democratic Alliance which has largely failed to resonate with black voters, said the move could lead to the creation of a new “black” political party and hasten a much-needed political reshuffle.
“We need a realignment of politics in this country… the ANC is tired. All people of all colours who respect the constitution and independent institutions should be together under one banner,” he said.
The news of Mr Manuel’s action spooked the markets, already jittery that the triumph of Mr Mbeki’s arch foe, ANC President Jacob Zuma, would mean a lurch leftwards.
The Rand immediately fell some 2.5 per cent against the dollar and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange dropped about four percent. Both recovered slightly after Mr Manuel was forced to give an impromptu press conference in Washington saying it was a question of protocol and he remained ready to serve a new incoming administration.
The ANC later said it had asked him to remain as Finance Minister and would also re-appoint some of the other ministers who had stepped down to give the ANC’s new man, Kgalema Motlanthe, a free hand.
Mr Motlanthe will be sworn in on Thursday when the current president’s resignation formally takes effect. Parliament, which is dominated by the ANC, today voted 299 to 10 to approve Mbeki’s exit which brings to a humiliating end the nine-year administration of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Only 14 years after the end of apartheid, the ANC dominates politics in the country and is expected to once again triumph in what will be the country’s third democratic election. However, many disillusioned voters are now expected to remain home, cutting the ANC’s overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.
The ANC said on Monday it wanted Mr Motlanthe, 59, as a caretaker president. He is expected to keep the seat warm for Mr Zuma who is not a member of parliament and cannot take over until after the next elections, now expected in April 2009.
The president’s office said the ministers’ resignations would also take effect on Thursday.
Those leaving include Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who spearheaded a turnaround of the country’s AIDS policies, and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, a key negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.
Both are close allies of Mr Mbeki and would have not proved acceptable to the backers of Mr Zuma. The caretaker president however is seen as appealing to a far wider spectrum of people within the ANC and will see some of the resignations as a blow to his hopes of reuniting the party ahead of next years poll.
— Elected ANC deputy president in December last year and appointed to Cabinet this July
— Defended Jacob Zuma against corruption allegations after he was sacked by Thabo Mbeki in 2005
— Believed to be about 59, is a former student activist, a trade unionist and a soldier in the ANC’s disbanded military wing
— Jailed on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela under the apartheid regime
— Elected secretary-general of the ANC in 1997 on the retirement from politics of Cyril Ramaphosa
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Motlanthe named new South Africa president
By Hassan Isilow, Daily Monitor Correspondent
ANC president Jacob Zuma has suggested that his deputy Mr Kgalema Motlanthe will be acting President of South Africa when Thabo Mbeki finally steps down.
Addressing a press conference yesterday in Johannesburg, Mr Zuma said his party had forwarded Mr Motlanthe’s name to Parliament awaiting its approval.
“Once Parliament approves comrade Motlanthe’s name then he will become our interim president,” Mr Zuma told a press conference at the ANC house.
Asked why the ANC had chosen Mr Kgalema Motlanthe as their favoured candidate, Mr Zuma said “Kgalema has all the potential to govern and stir this country in a good direction”.
Mr Mbeki, who presided over South Africa’s longest period of economic growth, said in a televised address on Sunday he had tendered his resignation after the ANC asked him to quit before the end of his term next year.
The ANC made its request eight days after a judge threw out corruption charges against party leader Jacob Zuma, suggesting there was high-level political meddling in the case.
There are striking similarities between the political careers of Mr Motlanthe and the ANC President Mr Zuma. The two are long serving members of the ANC Party and actively participated in the freedom of South Africa resulting into their imprisonment.
The two were sentenced to a prison term of 10 years each to Robben Islands for their political activism.
He was born in 1947 and is currently the ANC’s deputy president and minister without portfolio.
He was appointed to Parliament in May after the death of an ANC Member of Parliament, which clearly paved a way for him to become a cabinet minister.
Mr Motlanthe was appointed as minister without portfolio in July after the executive asked President Mbeki to bring him into Cabinet so as to manage the transfer of power when Mr Mbeki steps down at the expiry of his term in April 2009.
While working as minister without portfolio Mr Motlanthe was responsible for the co-ordination of government business.
He was a former student activist, trade unionist and soldier in the ANC’s disbanded military wing UmKhonto we Sizwe. He was elected as the ANC’s deputy president in December 2007.
Analysts had speculated that the ANC executive had wanted Mr Motlanthe to be appointed in Cabinet so as to gain leadership skills at a time when the ANC President Jacob Zuma was facing corruption charges, therefore implying that he would be the party’s second choice had Mr Zuma been sentenced to prison.
Mr Zuma, who holds no government post, is all but certain to become head of state in an election in 2009.