No need for stability

2008-09-25 00:00

Despite assurances from the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) that there is no crisis in the nation, there is bound to be uncertainty and anxiety in the public mind when six senior members of the cabinet, including Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, resign permanently in support of President Thabo Mbeki and relinquish their seats in Parliament, while another seven also resign for whatever reason and indicate that they will nonetheless be willing to serve in the new administration.

The Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, is one of the seven and has said that his resignation is a matter of principle: if a president departs, his ministers who are appointed at his pleasure must resign also and await any future developments under the newly elected president. If this is so important, as indeed it may be, why is it that over half of Mbeki’s cabinet have chosen to sit tight and not to resign?

Some have resigned for other reasons. Essop Pahad, Minister in the Presidency, has stated that in his view the “recall” of Mbeki by his own party’s executive was “profoundly unfair, profoundly unjust”. Issues of loyalty are at stake alongside major disillusionment within a divided ANC.

The need for stability in the government is obvious at such a critical time. It has been seen how the announcement of Manuel’s resignation caused an immediate downturn in the markets. The firebrands in the ANC and its alliance partners should note the catastrophic effects that can be caused by their wild rhetoric and any unwise decisions. Perhaps they have learnt some salutary lessons from the current ferment, including an awareness of the complexity of leadership in a modern state.

Today a new president will be elected by Parliament, and it will be the deputy president of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe. Jacob Zuma, the ANC’s president, cannot be elected because he is not a member of Parliament. Motlanthe will have to appoint a deputy president and fill other vacant cabinet posts. The challenge for him is to be statesmanlike and to reassure the country, by his actions and his demeanour, that the structures of government are secure and, above all, that the Constitution is protected as the chief guardian of the rule of law.

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