Mbeki resigns: where did the president go?

By Craig Wynn

Thabo Mbeki

Pic: Supplied

South Africa has, once again, found itself on the brink of political crisis with the recent resignation of our president, deputy president and another third of the cabinet. It has already been called the biggest news in South African politics since the fall of apartheid and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela 14 years ago. On Saturday, 20 September, President Thabo Mbeki officially announced his resignation from the presidential post to his cabinet, followed by a nationwide broadcast the next night.The decision came when the determined ANC NEC asked Mbeki to resign, this following Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling on Jacob Zuma’s corruption case. This in turn suggested that Mbeki may have interfered with the NPA’s decision to charge Zuma. Despite Mbeki’s subsequent move to have the claims withdrawn, he agreed to step down. He was then followed immediately by deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who indicated that she was not comfortable staying on underneath a different president.

The transition from Mbeki to the new president, Kgalema Motlanthe was hoped to be smooth and uneventful. This seemed to be true at first, but two days later, news came through that Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, ten other cabinet Ministers as well as three deputy ministers had also made the choice to resign. This resulted in a sharp decline in the economy, with the Rand falling to around 20 cents lower to the US Dollar in just one hour. That same afternoon, Manuel announced that, despite his resignation, he would be “more than happy” to serve in a new cabinet and expected to be sworn in by the new president on Friday, 26 September – once the new cabinet had been selected. Manuel was trailed by six other cabinet ministers who also promised to serve in the new cabinet if asked to do so. However, some ministers, such as Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, have said they will not be available for reappointment in a new cabinet. With seven months left until the national elections in South Africa, many have questioned the necessity of the ANC’s decision to replace Mbeki now. Placing a ‘caretaker president’ for the interim comes with a great amount of surplus administrative work.

This includes the replacement of all the cabinet ministers who stood down, as well as a sense of ‘political limbo’ in that there is now no true form of governance in South Africa.Opposition response to the news has been mixed with some congratulating Mbeki on a successful term of office while others, notably the South African Communist Party who are strong followers of ANC leader Jacob Zuma, criticising many aspects of Mbeki’s term as president. This included comments surrounding the general feeling that releasing the names of cabinet ministers who had resigned was a “disregard for the stability of the country”.

DA leader Helen Zille instead chose to praise Mbeki’s “dignified exit”, which she said would help keep the country calm. It is the ANC Youth League, though, that has had the most to say, with controversial leader Julius Malema again voicing seemingly obscure thoughts and claims. From saying earlier that they wanted Zuma to take control directly from Mbeki, they now praise the current process as the best possible solution. Malema also managed to both honour and demean Mbeki in one press conference, labelling him as both comrade and hero as well as a “dead snake” which needed burying. He ended off by claiming that the Youth League had a major influence on the decision to recall Mbeki and that “no one can tell [the ANCYL] what to do”. What is next in line for South Africa and our government we can only speculate upon, but the general consensus is that it will not be a happy, smooth or boring process.

New ministers

Defence – Charles Nqakula

Justice and Constitutional Development – Enver Surty

Health – Barbara Hogan

Safety and Security – Nathi Mthethwa

Intelligence – Siyabonga Cwele

Minister in the Presidency – Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

Provincial and Local Government – Sicelo Shiceka

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