President Thabo Mbeki’s surprise announcement of a string of cabinet ministers’ resignations, which plunged markets into disarray, was a “dangerous mistake”, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said in Johannesburg on Tuesday night.

He was addressing editors and political editors at the party’s’ Luthuli House headquarters after a day of political and economic drama in South Africa.

A third of the cabinet resigned en masse on Tuesday in the wake of the axing of Mbeki as president. “I would say it was a dangerous mistake [by Mbeki], I don’t think he tried to embarrass us,” Mantashe said.

Mantashe was asked earlier if Mbeki’s release of the names of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers who had resigned prior to his stepping down on Thursday was deliberate and intended to cause damage to the ANC and the economy.

In his response, Mantashe considered that the party had been caught by surprise…”that’s why we felt it necessary to have an urgent press briefing this (Tuesday) afternoon because we knew the markets would react negatively, especially with regards to finance minister [Trevor Manuel].

“I would rather say it was a dangerous mistake… it is always important to give the benefit of doubt, I can’t say it was intended to damage the economy.

“Therefore this is not a yes or no answer.”

Pressed on a response to what appeared to be a carefully crafted move by Mbeki, Mantashe said “I don’t know what to say on how dangerous it was; if it was a mistake.

“If there’s another dangerous mistake before Thursday [when Mbeki steps down as president] we would pick up a trend.

“But I don’t think he tried to embarrass us.” Mantashe said he would not be surprised if there was a ” few more” cabinet resignations to come.

“The position of the organisation [ANC] is that it wants them to continue… “There will not be a flood of ministers who will leave, many have agreed to continue.”

As Mantashe spoke he was informed by a journalist that deputy defence minister Mluleki George had just announced his resignation on Kaya FM.

Mantashe said he had an appointment with George on Wednesday morning and would discuss this with him. “But if he wants to leave, I won’t stop him.

Mantashe confirmed that party deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe would be sworn in as president in parliament on Thursday. “The new deputy president will also be announced and sworn in… I know who that person is but will not tell you at this point,” he said.