23 September 2008

South Africa: 11 Cabinet Ministers Resign in Shock Move

Cape Town — One day after South Africa's ruling party leader and prospective president, Jacob Zuma, appealed to members of President Thabo Mbeki's cabinet to stay in their posts, more than one-third of Mbeki's ministers resigned.

Among the 11 resignations was that of Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, whose weekend announcement that he was remaining in office bolstered international investor sentiment which had been nervous at the prospect of Mbeki stepping down.

Within minutes of the announcement of Manuel's resignation on Tuesday, the value of the South African rand and the all-share index on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) dropped sharply. Markets recovered some of their losses when Manuel's office quickly said he would be willing to serve Mbeki's successor, and the episode will place the incoming president, Kgalema Motlanthe, under strong pressure to re-appoint Manuel.

Among other resignations was that of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was widely expected to go as a result of the role her husband, Bulelani Ngcuka, played in probing allegations of corruption against Zuma.

The next most senior minister to resign was the Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota, who was vilified by Zuma supporters when, during the build-up to Zuma's election as party leader last year, he condemned the mobilization of support for Zuma on the basis of his Zulu ethnicity.

The resignations will force Motlanthe to reconstitute the cabinet seven months before the expected date of South Africa's next election. Motlanthe, deputy leader of the African National Congress, was nominated by the party to replace Mbeki until Zuma assumes office after the election. He is expected to be elected president by parliament on Thursday.

Other ministers who have resigned are the Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, prisons minister Ngconde Balfour, public enterprises minister Alec Erwin, science minister Mosibudi Mangena (who is from a minority party), public works minister Thoko Didiza, provincial and local government minister (and Zimbabwe power-sharing talks facilitator) Sydney Mufamadi, and public service minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. Three deputy ministers also resigned: Aziz Pahad (foreign affairs), Jabu Moleketi (finance) and Loretta Jacobus (prisons).

Mbeki's office said in its statement that all the ministers "have expressed their availability to assist the incoming administration in the hand-over process and any other assistance that might be sought from them." Motlanthe, however, will be under strong pressure from within the party not to re-appoint those perceived to be close to Mbeki.

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