Mbeki’s recalling a radically unnecessary and disruptive step

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The Sunday Times notes this week as one of the biggest in politics, “so if you’ve been asleep, know that you have missed a most momentous time in your nation’s history.”

The newspaper said further that it was the end of the road for Mbeki, adding: “He will live the rest of his life in sadness. Ousted leaders never find happiness. They become embittered. They remember only the good they did while in office and any innovation on the part of their successors is deemed to be an undoing of their legacy.”

There was much about the ANC’s sacking of Thabo Mbeki that the Mail & Guardian found disturbing. “Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we are far from convinced that such a radically disruptive step, so close to elections and the end of Mbeki’s term, was necessary. It has meant not just the replacement of South Africa’s president but of key ministers in his Cabinet.”

The newspaper questioned who now calls the shots in the ANC and who will call them during their eight-month interregnum before next year’s election. “President Motlanthe and his executive can expect to enjoy little discretion – indeed, he will be expected to attend and account to, the weekly office-bearers’ meetings at Luthuli House.

The Times said party leaders and heads of states have been kicked out unceremoniously before. “PW Botha was shown the door by a scared and angry National Party in the late 1980s to be replaced by a reforming FW de Klerk. Margaret Thatcher was kicked out by the Tories and replaced by a lackluster and gaffe-prone John Major. Tony Blair was given the boot by the Labour Party after 10 years of economic success. So, as momentous as Mbeki’s recall is, it is nothing new in democracies.”

The Star noted that South Africa’s new president inheritted the biggest political crisis of black rule and severe stress in Africa’s most powerful economy, but has little room to manoeuvre.

“The appointment of Motlanthe, a respected former union leader and quietly-spoken intellectual, was widely welcome in South Africa when he was elected by Parliament on Thursday, but he is expected to serve only until elections around April 2009.”

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