Mbeki’s hasty ouster ‘like a coup’

2012-03-12 00:00

FORMER presidential director-general Frank Chikane believes the ANC’s demand for Thabo Mbeki’s prompt resignation was similar to a coup d’état.

In his new book Eight Days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki Chikane also says that Jacob Zuma had assured Mbeki that he would see out the remainder of his term in office, but hours later Mbeki was “recalled” by the ANC.

Zuma’s meeting with Mbeki came in the wake of public threats by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema in September 2008 that Mbeki would be sacked by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) when it met that weekend.

Malema’s calls were fuelled by a finding of the high court in Pietermaritzburg that Zuma’s corruption prosecution was politically motivated. The ruling was later overturned.

“There is a debate about whether or not Zuma meant what he said both in public and in private about the removal of Mbeki,” Chikane writes.

Recounting the dramatic events that saw Mbeki step down as president of the country, he said Mbeki was pressured to submit his resignation letter to the ANC NEC instead of interacting with Parliament as required by the Constitution.

The impatient ANC leadership told Mbeki to submit his resignation by 7 pm on the Sunday before the influential structure concluded its meeting.

Chikane wrote that he and other presidential aides were on their way to Mbeki’s official Mahlamba Ndlopfu residence when he received a call conveying “another” disturbing message. “The ANC say that they want the president’s resignation letter today, not tomorrow.”

However, Chikane felt that the president was under no obligation to submit the letter in a hurry as the Constitution required that he should address it to Baleka Mbete in her capacity as the speaker of the National Assembly, not as party chairperson.

Chikane wrote that the message made him lose his cool.

“The party may have the right to recall its member from government, but cannot determine when the president should submit a letter of resignation.

“I felt that ba leka president joale [they were testing the president’s patience to the limit] and that ba batla ho ribitella bohloko bo a leng ho bona [they were poking their fingers into a gaping wound].”

He said there was no need to set an “unreasonable deadline” for the letter. “Once they started dictating when the letter should be delivered we began to slide into sinking sand, as this would change the status of the recall of the president to that of a coup d’état … this bordered on forcing the president to resign, as if at gunpoint.”

The NEC meeting sent word to Mahlamba Ndlopfu that it did not want Mbeki to continue with his planned trip the following week to the United Nations in New York, where post-settlement support for Zimbabwe and the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir were to be discussed.

“The party determining what a president could do and not do while in office was a clear violation of the Constitution, including the oath of office of the president …

“This act brought us close to the definition of a coup d’état,” writes Chikane.

He claims the party was so keen to see Mbeki’s back it didn’t plan for what would happen in the 12-hour interval between Mbeki’s resignation and Kgalema Motlanthe’s swearing in. Then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka resigned along with Mbeki.

Chikane claims Mbete’s note to the executive, which was dated September 22, 2008, “did not see any crisis as it clearly states that there will be no need to have a person acting as president pending the election” of Motlanthe in Parliament.

“The ministers eventually decided to appoint the late former communications minister, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, as acting president to avoid a vacuum.”

The book also reveals Mbeki’s stoic reaction to his recall.

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