Jerome Delay/AP
Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma

South Africa Faces Political, Economic Uncertainty Without Mbeki

September 24, 2008 07:52 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The resignation of former president Thabo Mbeki and several of his cabinet members has brought about the country’s most serious political crisis since apartheid.

Cabinet Ministers Resign with Mbeki, Economy Fumbles

Mbeki’s announcement of his exit has been followed by the resignation offers of more than a dozen members of his cabinet, including the finance minister.

News of the mass resignations “appeared to spook investors, worried a new government might deviate from Mr. Mbeki’s generally business-friendly policies,” reported The Wall Street Journal. The South African rand fell 0.8 percent to 8.0233 per dollar, and the currency also fell 2 percent to 11.6860 against the euro. The country’s stock markets also fell Tuesday.

Mbeki announced his resignation on Sunday
in response to efforts by militants of the African National Congress to oust him before the end of his term.

“I would like to take this opportunity to inform the nation that today I have handed a letter to the speaker of the national assembly … to tender my resignation from the high position of president of the Republic of South Africa,” Mbeki said in a live speech broadcast on TV, according to Reuters.

It is expected that after a period of interim leadership, which is to start on Thursday, Mbeki rival and ANC head Jacob Zuma will win the general election scheduled for 2009. Zuma is ineligible to immediately lead the country because he is not currently a member of the parliament or cabinet.

Related Topics: World leaders stepping down

Several countries have seen a peak in political turmoil in the wake of their leaders’ resignations in recent weeks; Mbeki joins Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, Thailand’s Samak Sundaravej, Japan’s Yasuo Fukuda, and Israel’s Ehud Olmert in stepping down from his country’s top post.

Pakistan saw Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, sworn in as president on Sept. 9 after Musharraf resigned on Aug. 18 following demands for his impeachment by the nation’s ruling political parties.

Thailand saw the ascension of Somchai Wongsawat on Sept. 17 after former prime minister Samak bowed out of the race to replace himself as prime minister. He had been forced to step down from the position for accepting payment for hosting two cooking shows while in office.

Japan’s ruling party selected Taro Aso on Sept. 22 to replace former Prime Minister Fukuda, who resigned unexpectedly earlier this month. Fukuda’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, had also left office early amid low approval ratings.

And Israel is making way for prime minister designate Tzipi Livni, after Ehud Olmert handed in his formal resignation on Sept. 21 amid an ongoing investigation for charges of bribery.

Key Players: Jacob Zuma, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, who is expected to succeed Mbeki, is described by the International Herald Tribune as “boisterous and charismatic,” although his ideological stances are less clear. Born in Natal, his father died while he was young, and his mother worked as a maid. Zuma never received a formal education and joined the African National Congress at the age of 17, and served in its military wing. In 1963 he was convicted of trying to overthrow the apartheid government and was sent to prison for 10 years. A practicing polygamist, he considers himself a Zulu traditionalist and is in favor of virginity testing for young girls.

Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former leader, ruled over a sustained period of economic growth that saw the creation of a strong black middle class. Described by the Telegraph as “an aloof, rather prickly intellectual,” his style of rule was often a contrast to that of his predecessor, the charismatic Mandela. Mbeki was born in 1942 to an activist family that encouraged him to become active in the resistance movement at a young age. He received his degree in economics from the University of London and a master’s from the University of Sussex. After the African National Congress was banned in 1960, he became involved in underground activity and eventually resistance activities in both South Africa and abroad. He started his term as the president of the Republic of South Africa in June 1999.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was the first black president of South Africa elected in free elections in which blacks were allowed to vote. Born in a small village in 1918, he studied law at the University College of Fort Hare but was suspended for participating in a boycott and finished his schooling by correspondence. He joined the African National Congress and became a prominent leader of the resistance before being sentenced to life in prison at Robben Island. He was eventually released to help negotiate the end of apartheid.

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