TOPICS > Politics

S. Africa Elects Interim Leader as Mbeki Bows Out

BY Admin  September 25, 2008 at 6:20 PM EDT

Kgalema Motlanthe; AP photo

The South African Parliament, which elects the president
from among its members and is dominated by the ruling African National Congress
party, elected Motlanthe by a vote of 269-50.

Following the vote, Motlanthe, deputy president of the ANC
and an anti-apartheid activist, vowed to continue on the same economic path
that has “kept South Africa steady.”

“In a turbulent global economy, we will remain true to
the policies that have kept South Africa steady, and that have ensured
sustained growth,” Motlanthe said.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by the faith and
confidence that the members of this assembly have in me,” he said,
according to the Associated Press.

Motlanthe is known as a quiet, steady hand who works behind
the scenes, says Joel Barkan, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies.

“He brings people together and he’s acceptable to all
factions in the ANC,” Barkan noted.

Motlanthe will serve as interim president until the general elections
early next year, when ANC President Jacob Zuma is widely expected to become the
next leader of the regional power.

Zuma, whose allies helped engineer Mbeki’s ouster, was not
eligible for the interim presidency post because he is not a member of
Parliament.

Mbeki’s nine-year tenure as president was cut short after
the ANC ordered him to quit following a protracted political — and personal –
struggle among ANC supporters over Zuma and Mbeki. Mbeki announced his
resignation on Sept. 21.

Zuma and Mbeki offer different approaches to managing South
Africa’s economy. Mbeki has long stood for a fiscally conservative policy of
boosting growth and attracting foreign investment, but these economic policies
have not addressed the rising unemployment rate — estimated around 26 percent
– and the poor distribution of income across the country.

Mbeki recognized the importance of a strong economy, but was
unable to make those economic gains trickle down, Roxanne Lawson, director of
Africa policy for TransAfrica Forum, told the NewsHour.

Zuma, meanwhile, espouses a more populist approach to
economic management, gaining support of the trade and labor unions and the
South African Communist Party, Barkan explained.

Lawson cautioned that Zuma has not formulated an economic
policy platform, and that his position was largely rhetoric. But with Zuma
poised as the likely next president, Lawson noted that he now has the
opportunity to develop an economic policy that is pro-worker and is aimed at
alleviating poverty.

The split within the ANC came to a head when Zuma — Mbeki’s
former deputy who has been embroiled in corruption claims and other
controversies — roundly defeated his former mentor for the party’s leadership
post in December 2007. With Zuma taking the helm of the ANC, Mbeki became a
lame duck as South Africa’s leader, Barkan told the NewsHour.

Mbeki’s resignation announcement came shortly after a High
Court judge threw out corruption charges against Zuma on Sept. 12. The judge claimed
that political meddling by Mbeki’s government had compromised the prosecution. Zuma’s
allies have alleged that the charges were politically motivated and engineered
by Mbeki and his aides to block Zuma from the presidency.

Mbeki has denied that he or anyone in his government had
politically interfered with the prosecution against Zuma.

After the prosecution was dropped, Zuma’s allies decided the
time was right for Mbeki to go, Barkan said. Additionally, ANC members were
widely concerned about the public feud between Zuma and Mbeki and the worsening
split within their party.

In this context, Motlanthe “is a safe choice for this
interim period, and the ANC is really worried about a split in their party, and
he’s able to unify the ANC in a way nobody else has been able to,” Lawson
said.

But both Barkan and Lawson underscored that this was a “wait-and-see”
period for the future of the ANC and for South Africa in general.

“All of this is unprecedented — where you have a
president agreeing to resign in a peaceful transition.”

“But South Africa is on a good course; people in South
Africa have faith in the ANC to lead them. The ANC now needs to get clarity
where it wants to lead them,” Lawson concluded.

Mbeki did not attend the parliamentary session Thursday. Mbeki
succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999 and was expected to end his two-terms in April
of next year.