Mbeki had fallen out of
favor within his country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC),
after a judge suggested he interfered in a criminal corruption case against his
rival, party leader Jacob Zuma.
Mbeki denied any meddling, but he resigned
under pressure. A third of his cabinet also stepped down out of loyalty.
The split in the party between supporters
of Mbeki and supporters of Zuma will be a tricky situation for the new interim
president, Kgalema Motlanthe, to navigate.
Thabo Mbeki helped foster economic growth, but was criticized for allowing the
AIDS crisis to deepen.
Motlanthe, a Zuma ally, will serve
as president until a general election can be held next year, at which time Zuma
is expected to become president. Zuma could not take the interim presidency now
because he is not a lawmaker.
The upheaval is the worst political crisis
for South Africa since the end of apartheid when white leaders gave up their brutal
control of the country.
Reporter Ferial Haffajee told National Public Radio
that Zuma and Mbeki have been competing for the ANC's "soul."
two views. The one is that we needed a cleaning out, this is very good for Democracy
that you see leaders don't stay for ever and ever," Haffajee said. "But the way
in which this has happened has been enormously destabilizing."
time in power
became president in 1999, succeeding Nelson Mandela. He helped foster economic
growth, and is credited for the rise of a black middle class. He also acted
as mediator for some conflicts in the region, including a recent power-sharing
deal that pulled neighboring Zimbabwe back from the brink of a political meltdown.
However, during his time as president the gap between the wealthy and the poor
has grown. Mbeki has also been heavily criticized for his handling of the HIV/AIDS
crisis. Earlier in his presidency, he rejected mainstream science showing that
HIV caused AIDS and publicly doubted AIDS medications proven to extend lives.
Legacy of apartheid
South African democracy is just
14 years old, and the country has only had presidents from the ANC party, which
was a key resistance movement during apartheid.
Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela became president in 1994 after decades spent
as a political prisoner.
Apartheid was a system of laws
and institutionalized racism that allowed the ruling white minority, descendants
of English and Dutch that colonized South Africa in the 17th century, to segregate
and terrorize the non-white population.
Apartheid laws enforced racial segregation
in the workforce and on public transportation and other facilities. A separate
education system was created for blacks to intentionally keep their level of education
While all forms of political protest by non-whites
were illegal, groups such as the African National Congress, continued to work
against the government.
Nelson Mandela, a leader of the ANC, was arrested
in 1963 and convicted of trying to overthrow the government. He was sentenced
to life in prison.
Twenty-seven years later in 1990, the South African
government finally caved to protests and international pressure to release him.
In 1994, he was elected in South Africa's first multi-racial election, marking
the end of apartheid rule.
Questions about the future
Zuma, who was also imprisoned for
10 years during the struggle against apartheid, was elected head of the ANC in
Jacob Zuma is expected to become South Africa's next president next year.
While Mbeki is an intellectual and wears well-tailored suits,
Zuma embraces his rural roots and poor background. He says he will be a president
for the poor if he is elected next year.
had several run-ins with the law, including a rape charge that ended in acquittal
and corruption charges that were dismissed. But South African prosecutors are
appealing that decision. It remains to be seen if those charges could hamper his
ability to take over the presidency next year.
the meantime, major changes in policy are unlikely under Motlanthe, who is eager
to show investors that the country will remain stable.
"In a turbulent
global economy, we will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa
steady, and that have ensured sustained growth," he said after his election.