Analysts: This is not a crisis

2008-09-25 18:26
Pretoria - The ANC's recall of President Thabo Mbeki, his subsequent resignation and that of some of his Cabinet ministers tested the country's democratic processes but is not a crisis, political commentators and academics said on Thursday.

"This country is not in a crisis... this country has just taken a significant step forward," Steven Friedman told an Institute of Security Studies seminar in Pretoria.

Friedman - the director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy - said Mbeki's recall had shown that leaders could be removed from power and that change was very much part of a democracy.

"I can't find anything even vaguely unconstitutional about the removal of Mbeki," he said, adding however that the African National Congress' "wisdom" could be questioned.

Unisa's Shadrack Gutto agreed that it was constitutional, but also clumsy.

"It has been done clumsily, but not unconstitutionally," said Gutto.

'Not surprising'

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said the word "crisis" was used too frequently in South Africa. He said the events which followed Judge Chris Nicholson's ruling that ANC president Jacob Zuma's prosecution was invalid, were expected.

"Nothing that has happened so far has surprised me," he said adding that he had earlier predicted that Mbeki might not finish his term of office.

"It is not a given that when such a decision [to remove the president] is taken a country will descend into crisis and anarchy."

Matshiqi said the challenge now facing the country was whether ANC leaders were able to normalise the state and also its own party structures, which would be more difficult.

"If they fail then we are on track on our journey to destination calamity," said Matshiqi.

Vegetables and pudding

He said the country was currently entering a "broccoli and cauliflower stage" - referring to the vegetables that children most dislike eating - but do because they knew pudding would follow.

"As South Africans we are a resilient people. What I'm not sure of is how much broccoli and cauliflower we shall have to eat before we get to the pudding. Secondly I am not sure of the quality of the pudding we shall eat, but pudding we shall have."

Friedman also said he did not think South Africa was in crisis but that the ruling party was.

"I believe that the message the ANC leadership has been sending out to the public for most of this year is that the politicians are extraordinarily concerned about themselves and each other and don't have terribly much time for the people's business in between."

He said people at grassroots levels were not stupid and had realised this, which was why the ANC's support was decreasing.

The party needed to become less about the politicians and more about the masses. Whoever was elected actually needed to lead.

If this happened then the pudding would become a reality, said Friedman.

Answering questions on the announcement by the presidency on Tuesday that 11 Cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and three deputy ministers had resigned, Friedman said he hoped the timing and the lack of clarity was an error. If not it was "highly irresponsible".

Said Matshiqi: "I'm tempted to veer in the direction that the presidency acted spitefully."

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