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Mbeki quits with grace

While Thabo Mbeki displayed grace and a sense of patriotic duty in announcing that he would not continue as President of South Africa, his resignation has raised concerns over the country’s political stability. A member of the African National Congress for 52 years, Mr. Mbeki says he remains a party loyalist. Nevertheless, there are indications that his staunch supporters in the Cabinet might walk out of the ANC to form a new organisation. It will be a great shame if the party of Nelson Mandela, which waged and won a glorious struggle against the hated system of racist apartheid, falls victim to infeuding and slips into a phase of decline. The risk can be lowered if the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Communist Party continue to support the current head of the ANC, Jacob Zuma. The solidarity among them was the main factor that helped Mr. Zuma prevail over Mr. Mbeki in the intra-party struggle. If they remain united, the ANC will have an excellent chance of retaining the two-thirds majority it has wielded in parliament since the first multi-racial election in 1994. An interim head of state, who is likely to be named in the next few days, will be in office for the remaining part Mr. Mbeki’s second five-year term. As things look, the ANC should have no problem winning the 2009 general election and anointing Mr. Zuma as South Africa’s next President.

Many analysts believe Mr. Mbeki brought trouble upon himself. Corruption cases were filed against Mr. Zuma in 2000; and he was ousted from the Cabinet in 2005 in the wake of a bribery scandal involving his financial adviser. The cases collapsed but were reinstituted by government prosecutors in December 2007. This was just days after Mr. Zuma won the party election and became head of the ANC. The cases were again dismissed on technical grounds in September 2008, with the High Court judge observing explosively that Mr. Mbeki’s office had instigated the prosecutor to reinstitute the charges for political reasons. After a week-long debate in the ANC’s National Executive, during which Mr. Zuma’s supporters raised the possibility of moving a recall motion against the President, Mr. Mbeki agreed to step down. Differences over economic policy fuelled the intra-party strife to a considerable extent, with the trade unions and communists being at odds with the government’s one-sided pro-business approach. Mr. Mbeki’s abrasive nature and non-sympathetic style also contributed to the animosity towards him. For all that, he and the rest of the ANC leadership deserve to be commended for resolving a serious political crisis in an exemplary democratic way.

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