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South Africa's leader could be ousted

Supporters of Jacob Zuma, the main party rival of President Thabo Mbeki, are behind the drive.

September 20, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — When President Thabo Mbeki was in Zimbabwe in recent days putting together the deal that saw Robert Mugabe give up his monopoly on power there, the knives were being sharpened at home.

The 86-member national executive committee of the ruling African National Congress party met Friday to decide whether to force Mbeki from office before his term expires next year, a move that would probably plunge the party and the country into political turmoil. The meetings continue over the weekend, with members of the ANC Youth League vowing to get rid of Mbeki.

Half of Mbeki's Cabinet would resign in protest if he were forced out, according to the Star newspaper. One of the biggest questions is whether Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, whom investors credit with ensuring the country's economic stability, would stay or go.

The pressure on Mbeki, 66, comes from supporters of his main rival, Jacob Zuma, also 66, who is the party president and a former deputy president of South Africa. Last week, a court threw out fraud and racketeering charges against Zuma on a technicality.

The judge endorsed Zuma's complaint that he was the victim of a political conspiracy in the ANC to taint him and block his road to succeeding Mbeki as the nation's president.

Mbeki released a statement Friday denying that he had pressured prosecutors to go after Zuma. He said the accusations against him were damaging to the presidency and the country.

Zuma's base in the left wing of the ANC will raise questions about the country's economic direction post- Mbeki. However many investors had already factored in the likelihood of a Zuma presidency after he defeated Mbeki for the party leadership in December.

Mbeki and Zuma, once close allies, could not be more different in style. Mbeki is cool and cerebral, criticized for being out of touch with the poverty of the masses and for failing to improve their lives. Zuma, who was acquitted of rape charges in 2006, is seen as a charismatic figure who likes to jive onstage to his trademark campaign song, "Bring Me My Machine Gun." His supporters wear T-shirts with the slogan "100% Zulu boy."

With Mbeki unlikely to go quietly, it would take a no-confidence motion in parliament or an impeachment move to force him from office. A no-confidence vote would trigger early elections.

The National Prosecuting Authority has announced that it intends to appeal the judgment throwing out the charges against Zuma.

Referring to pressure from the ANC not to pursue the case, Deputy Editor Jovial Rantao of the Star wrote in a column Friday: "There can be only one reason why so much pressure is being applied on the NPA.

"That reason is that there are serious fears that, based on the charge sheet presented by the NPA in December, Zuma does not stand a chance of being acquitted," Rantao said. "The NPA must be allowed to act without fear, favor or prejudice and present the evidence it has gathered against Zuma to the courts."

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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