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South Africa Endorses Interim President

Resource type: News

The New York Times |

by BARRY BEARAK and ALAN COWELL JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s Parliament chose Kgalema Motlanthe as the country’s interim president on Thursday, sealing the political demise of Thabo Mbeki, whose nine-year tenure came to an ignominious end last weekend when the governing African National Congress ousted him in a power play. Mr. Motlanthe sought quickly to convince jittery investors that the transition would not bring economic upheaval. In a turbulent global economy, we will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa steady, and that have ensured sustained growth, he said in a speech prepared for delivery. Mr. Motlanthe’s election by Parliament in Cape Town was little more than a formality after he was endorsed by his sponsor, Jacob Zuma, the leader of the A.N.C., which holds an overwhelming parliamentary majority. The opposition Democratic Alliance nominated its national chairman, Joe Seremane, for the post. Mr. Motlanthe won 269 votes to 50 for Mr. Seremane, making him South Africa’s third black head of state since the end of apartheid 14 years ago. There were 41 spoiled ballots, parliamentary officials said. Mr. Motlanthe was sworn in soon after the vote. A former labor union leader and political prisoner in the apartheid era, Mr. Motlanthe, 59, is expected to be in office until elections next year when, many South Africans assume, Mr. Zuma will take over. Mr. Zuma is not a member of the current Parliament and is thus ineligible for the presidency. Mr. Motlanthe, who is Mr. Zuma’s deputy in the leadership of the A.N.C., was appointed to Parliament earlier this year. Mr. Zuma watched the parliamentary vote from the public gallery and accompanied Mr. Motlanthe to the swearing-in ceremony, but Mr. Mbeki did not attend, news reports said. After Mr. Mbeki announced his resignation on Sunday, several of his key allies in the government quit too, and one of Mr. Motlanthe’s first jobs was to announce their replacements. Among those who said he was prepared to stay on, reassuring nervous markets, was Trevor Manuel, the influential finance minister who is widely respected by foreign investors and the South African business elite. After Mr. Motlanthe’s election on Thursday, the South African currency, the rand, strengthened slightly against the American dollar, Bloomberg News reported. Mr. Zuma has been careful to avoid the impression of turmoil in the transition from Mr. Mbeki. Everything is under control, Mr. Zuma said Wednesday. There must be no panic. There is a tendency among people who analyze to exaggerate things. There is absolutely no constitutional crisis. But the political maneuvering has exposed rifts in the party and inspired speculation that it could become even more factionalized, or even split in two, unless it overcomes its internal divisions. The eclipse of Mr. Mbeki – who succeeded Nelson Mandela to become South Africa’s second president after the end of apartheid – was the culmination of a long contest. Last December, Mr. Zuma outpolled Mr. Mbeki to win the leadership post of the A.N.C. Since the party is so dominant in South African politics, it was then thought highly probable that Mr. Zuma would become the next president. The only obstacle was that he faced trial on corruption charges. On Sept. 12, however, a High Court judge not only set aside the charges on procedural grounds, but also said that political meddling from the Mbeki government had most likely compromised the prosecution. Mr. Zuma’s followers used the judge’s decision to demand the early ouster of Mr. Mbeki, who was not due to leave office until next year. Mr. Mbeki has repeatedly denied that he sought to influence the corruption investigation. Mr. Motlanthe, born in a segregated Johannesburg township as the youngest of 13 children, was an organizer of the student protests and school boycotts that led to the Soweto uprising of 1976, The Associated Press reported. He was an official of the National Union of Mineworkers and spent 10 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island along with Mr. Mandela and Mr. Zuma. In the rivalry between Mr. Zuma and Mr. Mbeki, Mr. Motlanthe was an ally of Mr. Zuma who nonetheless had the credentials as a potential unifying force, mentioned at one stage as a possible compromise candidate for the presidency. Helen Zille, the opposition leader, described him as perhaps the most level-headed and reasonable of all the politicians in the Zuma camp, The Associated Press said.

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