By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 22, 2008
JOHANNESBURG, Sept. 21 -- South African President Thabo Mbeki announced Sunday that he had formally resigned and would vacate the office he has held for nine years as soon as the nation's Parliament selects a successor.
In a sober, unemotional address broadcast on state television, Mbeki thanked South Africans and the ruling African National Congress, which on Saturday voted to seek his ouster.
"I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for 52 years," Mbeki said. "I remain a member of the ANC, and therefore respect its decisions."
Mbeki, a top government leader since the end of apartheid in 1994, had faced increasing pressure to resign after a judge's ruling suggested his administration had schemed to charge his rival, Jacob Zuma, with corruption. Mbeki was due to step down after next year's national elections, and Zuma is expected to win his job.
Parliament is to meet in the coming days to choose an interim president from within its ranks. Baleka Mbete, the speaker of Parliament and ANC deputy chairwoman, is widely expected to step into the role. Zuma, the party's president, is ineligible because he is not a member of Parliament.
Mbeki, 66, was pushed out one week after a court dismissed corruption charges against Zuma, who beat out Mbeki as the party's president last December. The judge's suggestion that Mbeki and his ministers had plotted against Zuma divided the party, and ANC leaders on Saturday cited a need for party unity in announcing their decision to ask Mbeki to resign.
In his address, Mbeki said he "categorically" denied having meddled in any criminal cases. "This applies equally to the painful matter related to the court procedures against the president of the ANC, comrade Jacob Zuma," he said.
Although ANC leaders offered assurances that the transition and pre-election interim would maintain stability in Africa's biggest economy, questions loomed about how markets would react Monday and whether cabinet members would depart out of allegiance to Mbeki, thrusting the country into a political crisis.
ANC leaders said they had asked ministers to stay, and at least one -- Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, who is viewed as key to South Africa's economic steadiness and growth -- has said he would.
In a television interview Sunday night, the ANC's secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, said there would be no radical policy changes.
"The new administration will continue with the policies of the ANC," he said. "We don't move to the extreme in doing things."
Mbeki, whose pro-business policies were often criticized for leaving behind the poor, used his address to emphasize his fiscal leadership and other achievements. He cited South Africa's evolution into a regional power broker and international advocate for Africa and its people, who he stressed "will not and must not be the wretched of the earth in perpetuity."
Mbeki acknowledged his administration's failures.
"Despite the economic advances we have made, I would be the first to say that . . . the fruits of the positive results are still not fully and equitably shared among our people," he said. "Hence the abject poverty we still find coexisting side by side with extraordinary opulence."
He offered a response to the messages he has received in recent days. "I would like to say that gloom and despondency have never defeated adversity. Trying times need courage and resilience," he said. "Our strength as a people is not tested during the best of times."