CAPE TOWN, September 25 – South Africa’s third post-apartheid president is set to be sworn into office Thursday after the dramatic toppling of Thabo Mbeki by his own party, just months before the end of his term.
The ruling party’s deputy leader Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to be elected as president when parliament votes at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).
Known as "the elder one" for his level-headed approach to even the roughest political waters, Motlanthe will guide the country toward elections due next year while aiming to bridge the gaping divide within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Motlanthe attended Mbeki’s last cabinet meeting Wednesday, trying to send a message of continuity within the government after a third of the county’s top leaders, including the country’s deputy president, resigned.
After Mbeki was forced to resign, 14 ministers and deputies and the country’s deputy president stepped down.
While it is expected that seven will stay on in the new administration, several others have said they are not willing to.
Nevertheless, party chief Jacob Zuma, who in December 2007 replaced Mbeki as ANC leader, on Wednesday reiterated the party’s claim that the resignations had not sent the country into crisis.
"There is no problem, the situation is under control, there must be no panic," he said on e-tv news.
As party leader, Zuma is widely expected to be voted into the country’s top office in elections next year.
Mbeki bowed to a call to resign from the presidency following a damning court ruling that hinted he was instrumental in a decision to prosecute his longtime rival Zuma, whom he fired as the country’s deputy president in 2005.
He has denied the allegations and is appealing that aspect of the ruling in a bid to clear his name from the insinuation of judicial meddling.
In a farewell letter to his cabinet published Thursday in The Star, Mbeki said he had accepted the ANC’s decision in the interests of South Africa and without "resistance or rancour".
The cabinet on Wednesday elected communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri as the acting President from midnight until the new president had been sworn in, a government statement said.
Motlanthe’s elevation to the presidency ends Mbeki’s nine-year administration, leaving an embarrassing stain on the legacy of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
The political turmoil has rattled the economy, with currency markets shaken by the decision of the widely-respected finance minister, Trevor Manuel, to resign with the other top officials.
Manuel’s spokesman later made it clear that he was ready to serve the new administration.
But his resignation led to market jitters with the rand slipping from 7.98 to 8.16 to the US dollar on Tuesday. Markets were closed Wednesday for a public holiday.
Zuma said the decision to recall Mbeki had been "one of the most painful and difficult decisions" taken in the party’s history.
The outgoing president had been increasingly at loggerheads with his party, which split into two camps behind him and Zuma when he made his failed bid to run for a third term as party president at a crunch ANC conference last year.