Mbeki recall was a coup d’état

2012-03-10 19:45

Former presidential director-general Frank Chikane has likened the ANC’s pressure and demand for Thabo Mbeki’s prompt resignation letter to a coup d’état.

In a book released this week – Eight Days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki – Chikane said Mbeki was pressured to submit his resignation letter to the ANC national executive committee (NEC) instead of interacting with Parliament as required by the Constitution.

The impatient ANC leadership told Mbeki to submit his resignation by 7pm on 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 hurry as the Constitution required that he should address it to Baleka Mbete in her capacity as the speaker of Parliament, not as party chairperson.

Chikane wrote that the message made him lose his cool, saying that it could not be.

“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 also 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 reveals Mbeki’s stoic reaction when Chikane, the presidency’s then chief operating officer, Trevor Fowler, and the then presidential legal adviser Mojanku Gumbi informed him that his party’s NEC had decided to “recall” him, before ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and party deputy president Motlanthe formally conveyed the news to him at the Mahlamba Ndlopfu official residence in Pretoria.

“The closest thing to a reaction was when he repeated his belief that no true cadre of the movement (the ANC) could make a decision of that nature given the circumstances and issues involved.

“For him, this meant that something had gone tragically wrong in the ANC and it was a cause for great concern.

“It was out of character and a manifestation of the first fruit of the Polokwane Project. He was ready to meet the ANC delegation at any time. At this stage he looked like a soldier who was ready to die, if he had to, for the sake of the country; a lamb to be slaughtered for the cause,” he writes.

» Chikane’s book is published by Picador

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