Posted on September 22, 2008

Zuma Promises ‘Smooth Transition’

Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), September 22, 2008

African National Congress (ANC) chief Jacob Zuma said on Monday there would be a “smooth transition” in the presidency after the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, adding that economic policy would remain unchanged.

The ANC on Monday named Kgalema Motlanthe as caretaker leader to replace Mbeki.

“Comrade Mbeki led an ANC government. We therefore expect a smooth transition as this is not a change of party but only leadership in government,” Zuma told reporters.

“Our economic policies will remain stable, progressive and unchanged.”

Zuma said that Motlanthe would be up the task of serving as president.

When asked if it was true that Motlanthe was the candidate named to replace Mbeki, an ANC MP said “Yes, it is”.

ANC spokesman Khotso Khumalo said Parliament would vote on the president in the next few days—the National Assembly sits later on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Khumalo declined to comment on whether Motlanthe had been named as president.

Zuma said on Monday that the decision to ask Mbeki to resign had been one of the most difficult in the history of the ruling party. He told a news conference in Johannesburg that the decision was taken to help South Africa move forward.

Tit for tat

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he was “deeply disturbed” by the axing of Mbeki.

“It is good old-fashioned tit for tat,” he told journalists in Cape Town.

“Our country deserves better. The way of retribution leads to a banana republic,” added Tutu.

“We are seeing people flexing muscles and settling scores. There is very little concern about the repercussions,” said Tutu.

If South Africa was a democracy, there had to be certainty that those who led it were not corrupt.

“It is a court of law that will ultimately decide whether he [Jacob Zuma] is or isn’t”.

Left-leaning intellectual

Motlanthe is a left-leaning intellectual who has never sought the limelight.

The youngest of 13 children, Motlanthe was born in 1949 and was influenced by the revolutionary ideologies of the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko. He was detained by the apartheid government in 1977 at 28, the year after the 1976 Soweto uprising.

In 1967 he was detained for 11 months for pursuing the aims of the ANC. He was later sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island. Shortly after his release he was elected secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers. In 1997 when politician-businessman Cyril Ramaphosa retired from politics, Kgalema was elected secretary general of the ANC.

“Motlanthe will be the president, not interim, he will be the president of the republic until the election,” spokesperson for the ANC parliamentary caucus KK Khumalo said after a meeting between the party and lawmakers.

Motlanthe’s nomination comes a day after Mbeki announced his resignation in a live broadcast, after calls by his party for him to step down seven months before the end of his second term.

Motlanthe was elected party deputy president at a crunch ANC conference in Polokwane in December last year, which was when Zuma toppled Mbeki from his position as party chief.

According to the South African Constitution, Parliament elects the president from among its members, dominated by the ANC since 1994.

“In terms of the process we are going to follow, Mr Motlanthe is going to, in the days running up to the election . . . be president of the country,” said Phosa.

Motlanthe was only recently appointed to Parliament as minister in the presidency charged with smoothing the transition from one administration to the next.

Mbeki, who presided over South Africa’s longest period of economic growth, said in his 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.

News of Mbeki’s departure helped push South Africa’s rand weaker in overnight trading, although traders said the political moves would not affect the currency much in the short term.

Analysts say the currency, which weakened by as much as 1,7 %, will remain vulnerable in the transition period and that any volatile changeover will have a negative impact.

“While investors may welcome greater certainty in terms of the future political outlook, a more volatile political transition is likely to cost the country dearly,” said Razia Khan, Standard Chartered regional head of research for Africa.

Mbeki, who took over from Nelson Mandela as president in 1999, said on Sunday he remained a loyal ANC member and respected the party’s decision but repeated that he did not influence the prosecution in the case of Zuma.