Mbeki due to address the nation

September 21, 2008 12:00 am

, CAPE TOWN, September 21 – Thabo Mbeki will on Sunday make a rare public address, a day after agreeing to calls by the governing African National Congress for him to stand down in the interests of party unity.

Mbeki said on Saturday that he would step down "as soon as all constitutional requirements have been fulfilled" after calls by the ANC national executive committee’s for him to go.

Mbeki, 66, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as president in June 1999, has been under fire over allegations that he influenced the pressing corruption charges against ANC leader and political rival Jacob Zuma.

"The ANC has decided to recall the president of the republic before his mandate has expired," the ANC’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe told journalists after a meeting of the party leadership.

"Our decision has been concluded, the formalities are now subject to the parliamentary process," Mantashe said, adding that Mbeki "didn’t express shock, he welcomed the news.

"We have communicated our decision (to Mbeki) and that we will be going through parliamentary process. He has agreed to participate in that process."

Government spokesman Themba Maseko said a cabinet meeting had been called for Sunday afternoon, and afterwards Mbeki would "speak to the nation" in a live broadcast on radio and television.

It will be Mbeki’s first direct speech to the public since he took to television screens across the country in the wake of violent anti-foreigner killings which rocked the country in May.

Under the South African constitution, the president is appointed by parliament, which has been dominated by the ANC since the end of apartheid and the start of majority rule in May 1994.

Mbeki’s term formally expires in mid-2009. The decision now rests with parliament whether to appoint an interim president and call an early election, or install a full acting president to complete the second term.

Senior ANC officials had gathered Friday to discuss Mbeki’s future after a September 12 court ruling that cleared Zuma of corruption charges and hinted that Mbeki’s government had interfered in the decision to prosecute him — an allegation that the president’s office denied.

Fierce debate followed the September 12 judgment, along with speculation as to whether the ANC would force Mbeki out in a vote of no confidence, ask him to resign, or allow him to serve out his term.

The dismissal of the charges on a technicality cleared the way for Zuma to become South Africa’s president in elections next year.

The main allegation against Zuma had been that he received bribes for protecting French arms company Thint in an investigation into a controversial weapons deal.

Judge Chris Nicholson said the decision to throw out the case was not a reflection of Zuma’s guilt or innocence, but a technical decision based on his right to make representations before being recharged.

Mbeki fired Zuma as deputy president in 2005 after his financial advisor was jailed for corruption.

Mantashe said the decision to ask Mbeki to stand down was taken in the interests of party unity.

"This is not a punishment," he said. "We decided to take this decision in an effort to heal and reunite the ANC."


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