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Mbeki has no plans to step down early

S. Africa's leader says he'll finish term despite losing top party post.

December 22, 2007|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — South African President Thabo Mbeki, speaking publicly for the first time since losing his post as leader of the ruling party, pledged Friday to serve out his term in office, which ends in 2009.

His defeat this week at an acrimonious conference of the African National Congress had raised speculation that he could be forced from office.

"I have no reason to assume that there would be anything that would stop the government serving the full term for which it was elected," Mbeki said.

Mbeki was defeated by populist Jacob Zuma, whom he fired as deputy president in 2005 over corruption allegations.

Zuma is in line to succeed Mbeki in 2009, unless convicted of corruption or tax evasion charges that could be filed by the National Prosecuting Authority within weeks.

Mbeki said any criminal proceedings against Zuma must follow their course through the courts.

"I don't know what the NPA intends to do. They've said nothing to me," Mbeki said. "If they proceed as is reported, we would all of us say we would indeed allow the law to take its course."

Many Zuma supporters contend that the charges are a ploy by the Mbeki camp to block Zuma from leading the country.

Mbeki denied that he felt any bitterness toward Zuma over the election, but he condemned the "unacceptable behavior" of some ANC members at the conference.

Zuma supporters booed Cabinet ministers, and when Mbeki finished his speech, they stood and sang Zuma's trademark song, "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

Analysts and delegates said one reason for Mbeki's overwhelming defeat was his aloof, top-down management style. Mbeki responded Friday by denying that he was disconnected from the party membership.

He said he spent a lot of time traveling around the country and meeting ANC members, and that he had not heard any such complaint.

"One of the things I have had to do is to go around and sit down with the executive provincial committees of the ANC for two days, and the branch leaders and so on. I would not understand what aloof means," he said.

Since Mbeki's defeat, government and party officials have been at pains to reassure the country and international investors that there will be no sharp shift in government policy. Mbeki reiterated the point Friday, saying that both the government and the party were bound by policy decisions made by the ANC conference.

"Nothing will happen as a consequence of the election," he said, adding that the only difference between him and Zuma was in their style of leadership.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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