Monday, September 22, 2008



September 22 2008

Supporters of deposed South African President Thabo Mbeki may split from the ruling African National Congress and contest elections as a breakaway party in 2009, South Africa’s Sunday Times said.

The move threatens to shatter the foundations of the country’s post-apartheid political landscape, which has been dominated by the African National Congress, and tilt Africa’s largest economy to the left.

Mr Mbeki, who has followed a pro-business line since taking over from Nelson Mandela as president in 1999, agreed on Saturday to accept the ANC’s request that he resign before the end of his term next year.

Late today, Mr Mbeki said he had tendered his resignation as head of state.

The resignation will be effective from a date to be decided by South Africa’s parliament, Mr Mbeki said in a speech on national broadcaster SABC.

His downfall came about a week after a judge suggested there was high-level political meddling in the graft case of Mbeki rival and ANC leader Jacob Zuma, the frontrunner to win the next presidential election.

Although Mbeki’s willingness to give up the reins without a fight suggests an orderly transition of power, a number of ministers have threatened to resign rather than serve in a Zuma-controlled government.

Some are contemplating the unthinkable: leaving the ANC.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, Deputy Defence Minister Mluleki George and other Mbeki loyalists are planning to start a new party and organisers will meet this week to discuss the move, the Sunday Times said.

“I’m not in a position to discuss this thing at this stage, but in a few days or a week you will hear the details,” George told the newspaper.

The ministers were not available for comment.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has already said she intends to resign with Mbeki, and others could also leave the ANC, which fell under the control of Zuma after he beat Mbeki for the party leadership late last year.

Mr Zuma has strong support from the country’s powerful trade unions and its small but influential communist party. Mbeki’s wing of the party is more friendly to investors, having adopted policies that spurred nearly a decade of economic growth.

Mr Zuma and other senior ANC officials are trying to prevent a mass exodus of the cabinet, which could trigger early elections. The country had not been expected to go to the polls until April or May of next year. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe has appealed for ministers and civil servants to remain in their positions.

Zuma is not expected to take over immediately.

A transitional leader, likely parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete, a Zuma loyalist, is likely to be named to replace Mbeki and possibly serve the remainder of his final term.

The constitution barred Mbeki from seeking a third term.

Analysts said the prospect of a new party, either led or inspired by Mr Mbeki, represented a threat to the ANC, which has held a stranglehold on power since spearheading the drive to overthrow white minority rule in 1994.The ruling party is a broad church, with its base of support ranging from radical leftists to business tycoons. But it has been in crisis for several years due to the infighting between the Zuma and Mbeki camps.

The battle reached a fever pitch about a week ago when a judge threw out a corruption case against Zuma and suggested there had been high-level political meddling in his case.

The sudden overthrow of Mr Mbeki is the biggest political crisis since apartheid.

The move has left some South Africans nervous and uncertain.

“They should have let him finish his term. People in his government have experience. They may just leave. Now we have no idea what will happen,” said Peter Mathonsi, 28, a baggage salesman. “I don’t like Mbeki. But this is not right.”

Hair salon manager Nicole Carromea, 25, is frightened by both how easily the ANC forced Mr Mbeki out and the prospect of a South Africa led by Mr Zuma.

Money and power

“I guess money and power can do anything. It’s scary. It’s time to consider going back to Portugal,” said South Africa-born Carromea, whose parents are Portuguese immigrants.

“This is scary. We will stay in South Africa now but will assess the situation,” she said, holding her young daughter.

“Zuma is popular but he is not a statesman. As long as we have someone who can act as a statesman for Zuma we should be fine,” said Macherbe, standing beside a huge statue of Mbeki’s predecessor Nelson Mandela at a Johannesburg mall.

Since taking power in 1999, Mr Mbeki has presided over nearly a decade of economic growth, the longest such expansion the country has seen. But he was widely seen as out of touch with South Africa’s core problems of poverty, crime and Aids.

“Obviously there are people in the ANC and in Mbeki’s camp who feel he (Mbeki) is being ill-treated and, therefore, they themselves are not welcome in the ANC,” said Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg.

“If some of the more vengeful Zuma supporters have their way, the prospect of some sort of alternative will become real.”

A split could see the ANC return to the socialist doctrines that marked its programme during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was heavily influenced by the Marxist liberation movements in other parts of Africa as well as the Soviet bloc.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest labour federation in the country, and the South African Communist Party, have been pushing the Zuma-led ANC to make a radical shift away from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. (Reuters)