South Africa’s ruling party has called on President Thabo Mbeki to resign and says he has agreed to the request.
African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the top-level National Executive Committee has “decided to recall the president of the republic before his term of office expires”.
Mantashe said that Mbeki accepted the news. “He did not display shock ... he welcomed the news and agreed that he is going to participate in the process and the formalities.”
Mbeki has lost a power struggle against his rival, ANC leader Jacob Zuma, and has come under pressure to quit following a judge’s ruling last week that he was instrumental in Zuma being charged with corruption.
It was unclear whether Mbeki attended today’s meeting. It said several key government executives, including deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, would follow him and that parliament would meet next week to formalise the process.
There was no immediate confirmation of this. If other key Cabinet ministers do decide to quit in solidarity with Mbeki, there could be turmoil in Africa’s economic and political powerhouse.
All eyes are on finance minister Trevor Manuel, who shares the credit with Mbeki for South Africa’s sustained economic growth and investor-friendly policies over the past decade.
Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999 and was due to stand down next year. If he is forced out of office, it will be a devastating humiliation to a man who devoted his life to the ANC.
Mbeki, who has promoted what he calls "Africa’s renaissance", has mediated in conflicts ranging from Sudan to Ivory Coast to Congo.
After years of quiet diplomacy, for which he was widely criticised, he persuaded Zimbabwe’s strongman, President Robert Mugabe, to share power with the opposition movement last week – although talks on the formation of a Cabinet have since deadlocked over disagreement about the control of key ministries.
Militant Zuma supporters headed by the ANC and Communist Youth Leagues want to force Mbeki out before his term ends. They are calling for the ANC – to which the 66-year-old Mbeki has belonged since he was 14 – to throw him out of the party as well as out of office.
Mbeki fired Zuma as his national deputy president in 2005, after Zuma’s financial adviser was convicted of trying to elicit a bribe to deflect investigations into a multi-billion-pound international arms deal.
The charges were withdrawn against Zuma, but the chief prosecutor announced in December he had enough evidence to bring new ones. This was within days of Zuma ousting Mbeki as ANC president.
In his ruling on September 12, Judge Christopher Nicholson said it appeared Mbeki and his justice minister had colluded with prosecutors against Zuma as part of the “titanic power struggle” within the ANC.
Mbeki indignantly denied the accusations Friday.
“It impoverishes our society that some resort to the tactic of advancing allegations with no fact to support these,” the presidency said in a statement. “The question will have to be answered now – what kind of society are we building, informed by what value system and with what long-term effect to the political and overall moral health of the nation?”
South Africa emerged victorious from years of institutionalised racism in 1994 and entered an era of reconciliation embodied by anti-apartheid icon Mandela. Mbeki took over in 1999 and ushered in sustained economic growth averaging nearly 5% a year.
Mbeki was heralded by the international business community, but his aloofness has alienated many people at home where millions remain on the margins of society. His foes accuse him of failing to fight the country’s crippling crime and HIV/Aids crises.