September 25, 2008

SAfrica: Cabinet Praises Outgoing President for Achievements

Text of report by South African privately-owned, established daily newspaper The Star website on 25 September

[Report by Moshoeshoe Monare and Xolani Mbanjwa: "Mbeki Lauded as he Bows Out"]

An "emotional and aggrieved" cabinet have paid tribute to Thabo Mbeki for his achievements, defended his integrity to the bitter end and elected Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri as acting president for about 12 hours.

The term of office of Mbeki, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka, and some ministers and deputy ministers who had resigned, came to an end just after midnight this morning.

Matsepe-Casaburri was to act until the National Assembly elected a new president today, expected to be ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

At his last cabinet meeting last night, the cabinet expressed their support for Mbeki, with Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad saying the ANC's decision to recall the president was a mistake.

"I think the decision was profoundly unjust ... and on that basis it was not possible for me to continue any longer to serve as a minister in the government, as well as continue to serve as an MP," Pahad said in Pretoria.

In a moving letter to his former national executive, Mbeki asked his team to affirm their "personal integrity, refusing to succumb to the expedient", in what could be construed as a tacit swipe at the new ANC leadership.

Mbeki said his was an ethical leadership, and reassured the country that they would get such leadership in future.

He accepted "without rancour and resistance" the decision of the ANC to remove him several months before the end of his term.

"By decision of the ruling party, the ANC, acting within its rights, the current government I have been privileged to lead has been obliged to end its tenure a few months ahead of its popularly mandated term.

"In the interest of the masses of our people and country, personally I accepted this eventuality without resistance or rancour, and acted upon it accordingly.

"I trust that all of us, members of the national executive, will respond in similar fashion," he said in his letter.

"I plead that in addition to what I have already said in this letter, you should do everything you can, constantly to affirm your personal integrity, refusing to succumb to the expedient; assert your commitment to principle, rejecting opportunism and cowardice; reaffirm your commitment selflessly to serve the people, determined to spurn all temptations to self-enrichment, self-promotion and protection of material personal benefit at the expense of the people; remain loyal to the values of truthfulness and honesty; and respect the views and esteem of the masses of our people," he added.

While admitting that "we have made mistakes", Mbeki said the focus had always been to achieve "the fundamental social transformation of our country".

"In this context, as revolutionaries, we must at all times remain open to criticism and self-criticism, precisely to ensure that we identify whatever mistakes might have occurred and correct these."

In a subtle swipe at the current ANC leadership, Mbeki urged his former colleagues to demonstrate that they were true revolutionaries.

"This will demand that we demonstrate that we are able and willing to walk the long and hard road to freedom, always conscious of our obligation to serve the people, rather than promote our personal interests.

"As tried-and-tested combatants for the victory and consolidation of our democratic revolution, you have had no need for an instructor to educate you about the challenges we would face to achieve the objectives of the revolution."

Pahad said some ministers had expressed their confidence in Motlanthe at the meeting.

"This wasn't a cabinet meeting to welcome Motlanthe because he has not been sworn in as president -he is the president-elect -but in passing, people mentioned that fact."

Motlanthe and Mbeki arrived together after a brief meeting.

Pahad, Mlambo-Ngcuka, 10 other ministers and four deputy ministers resigned in solidarity with Mbeki in a press statement that temporarily shook the country, and battered the rand and the JSE.

Pahad defended the announcement, even though it rattled the markets, forcing Finance Minister Trevor Manuel to clarify that he was available to serve under Motlanthe.

"I didn't see a problem, frankly speaking, and this is because individual ministers resigned in their individual capacities on the basis of their letters to the president in which they expressed their reasons as to why they thought they should resign," he said.

Pahad, saying they all still owed their loyalty to the ANC, denied any talk of a new splinter party.

"There was no discussion of any kind of split (within the ANC) anywhere."

He said they still stood by their decision to appeal against Judge Chris Nicholson's judgment, which inferred that Mbeki had interfered in the prosecution of Jacob Zuma.

Meanwhile, Zuma yesterday expressed regret at the sudden departure of cabinet ministers and the chaos that followed.

Zuma said the challenge the ANC had when taking the decision to recall Mbeki was how to make it work within the parameters of the constitution.

"We did not need the ministers to resign, but they exercised their rights as individuals," he said.

Originally published by The Star website, Johannesburg, in English 25 Sep 08.

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