South African president, Thabo Mbeki (photo), as formaly resigned in a televised address, a day after accepting a call by the governing African National Congress to quit.He said he had handed a resignation letter to the speaker of the National Assembly and added that as soon as a new president was chosen, he would leave his post.
Although it is not clear who will succeed him, the ANC appears to favour the parliamentary speaker, Baleka Mbete, as acting president.
Mr Mbeki’s speech followed an emergency cabinet meeting. He is stepping down before his final term expires next year.
Days before Mr Mbeki’s announcement, a high court judge suggested that he may have interfered in a corruption case against his rival, ANC leader Jacob Zuma.
During his address, Mr Mbeki made an impassioned defence of his position. He said that there had been no effort at all to meddle with the judicial process. Then he dismissed any suggestion that he had been trying to shape the judgement for his own political ends.
It was a very measured an reflective speech, said the BBC’s Karen Allen, in Johannesburg.
In his speech, Mr Mbeki began by saying he had handed his resignation letter to parliamentary speaker, but that the ANC would decide the date of his leaving.
‘Courage and resilience’
“I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for 52 years. I remain a member of the ANC, and therefore respect its decisions”, he said.
According to Ms Allen, it was a very clear signal that like many others he is keen to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Mr Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president in 1999. He thanked the nation and his party, the ANC, for giving him the opportunity to serve in public office.
Then he went on to list some of the achievements of 14 years in office as a deputy president and then president. He added that there was still much to be done in South Africa, and urged the incoming leadership to continue to combat poverty and social injustice.
“Trying times need courage and resilience. Our strength as a people is not tested during the best of times… For South Africa to succeed there is more work to be done and I trust that we will continue to strive to act in unity”, he said.
In order to formalise his resignation and select a caretaker leader, the parliament is likely to meet in the coming days. And in scheduled elections next year, Mr Zuma is widely expected to succeed Mr Mbeki.
Calling for Mr Mbeki’s early resignation was decided at a meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
The decision to seek Mr Mbeki’s early departure as president had been taken for “stability and for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa”, said the ANC’s secretary general.
On Saturday, Gwede Mantashe told reporters that it was not punishment for Mr Mbeki and that he would be given the chance to continue his role as mediator in Zimbabwe.
In order to ensure continued stability, ANC cabinet members are being urged to remain in government.
In 2005, after his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on his behalf, Mr Zuma was fired as deputy president by Mr Mbeki.
But last year, Mr Zuma returned to the political stage in bitterly contested elections, to topple his rival as ANC.
Corruption and other charges against Mr Zuma (photo, from telegraph.co.uk) have been dismissed earlier this month by a High Court, saying there was evidence of political interference in the investigation.
It appeared that Mr Mbeki had colluded with prosecutors against Jacob Zuma as part of the “titanic power struggle” within the ANC, said the judge in his ruling.
Mr Mbeki strongly denied the accusation.
After becoming leader of South Africa in 1999, Mr Mbeki won a second term in 2004.
Perhaps his biggest policy success has been South Africa’s rapid economic growth since the end of apartheid and the rise of a black middle class – but to the anger of many, wealth is more unevenly distributed than ever before.
Mr Mbeki provided space for Mr Zuma to mobilise a powerful constituency as he failed to convince the trade unions and the poorest South Africans that the government has acted in their interest.
And his hand was also weakened domestically, because of his government’s handling of the HIV/Aids crisis and failure to stem violent crime in the country.