- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

JOHANNESBURG | African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma suggested Monday that his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, will become South Africa’s interim president, as he tried to ally fears of a leadership vacuum in Africa’s economic powerhouse.

South Africa’s business community appeared to shrug off the political changes - knowing that, no matter who is named, Mr. Zuma was the man in charge.

The party told President Thabo Mbeki over the weekend he must resign after nine years at the helm since he lost a power struggle with Mr. Zuma. Many expected the party to announce Monday who would become interim president, but Mr. Zuma was coy at a news conference.

In his first comments since Mr. Mbeki’s ouster, the ANC president said the name of an acting president will be announced “at an appropriate moment” but added that Mr. Motlanthe “will be equal to the task … if given that responsibility.”

“There is no reason for South Africans to be apprehensive,” Mr. Zuma said. “[The transition] will be managed with care and precision.”

In Parliament, ANC chief whip Nathi Mthetwa said Thursday would be Mr. Mbeki’s last day.

Mr. Motlanthe, a student activist and trade unionist who fought in the struggle to end white rule, was jailed with Nelson Mandela under the apartheid government in the 1970s.

Mr. Zuma is expected to become South Africa’s president after elections that must be held by July. He is barred by the constitution from taking over immediately because he is not a member of Parliament.

“Working together with Parliament, we will ensure that the election of a new president takes place as speedily as possible,” said Mr. Zuma, a populist tainted by corruption charges.

The assurances were not embraced by all South Africans.

The country’s moral beacon, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said he was deeply disturbed by Mr. Mbeki’s axing.

“The way of retribution leads to a banana republic,” Mr. Tutu warned Monday, voicing concern that the cloud of corruption still hangs over Mr. Zuma’s head.

South Africa’s financial markets operated Monday without the chaos or turmoil that had been feared.

While Mr. Mbeki has championed the free market and led South Africa to strong growth since 1999, Mr. Zuma is seen as beholden to labor and the left.

Mr. Zuma has repeatedly insisted he plans no major departures from Mr. Mbeki’s economic policies, though he said more needed to be done to help the impoverished black majority still awaiting a better life 14 years after the end of apartheid.

The ANC called Saturday on Mr. Mbeki to quit after a judge last week threw out a corruption case against Mr. Zuma on a legal technicality and implied that Mr. Mbeki’s administration had applied pressure to ensure Mr. Zuma was prosecuted.

In a televised farewell address Sunday night, Mr. Mbeki said “categorically” that he had never interfered in the work of prosecutors - especially in “the painful matter” of the Zuma case.

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