Local newspapers on Monday largely criticised the ANC’s removing President Thabo Mbeki from office, while several raised questions about Jacob Zuma’s leadership.

Business Day said the decision by the national executive committee on Saturday to “recall” Mbeki was done for the wrong reasons.

“Contrary to what some in the ANC leadership are insisting, this was not a step taken with the best interests of the country in mind, nor was it even the outcome that suited the ruling party as a whole,” read Business Day’s editorial.

“It was what Zuma’s supporters believed they had to do to increase his chances of avoiding a trial on fraud and corruption charges, and therefore succeeding Mbeki.”

The paper called for an “orderly handover of power”. “The centre will hold, especially if those in the government who sympathise with Mbeki resist the temptation to resign in protest.

“A mass exodus from the Mbeki administration would make life difficult for the Zuma faction, but the real damage would be to SA.” Political analyst Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said it seemed Zuma was unable to control radicals in the ANC.

“The ANC seems to have moved from one extreme to the other — from an organisation in which the president makes all the decisions to one in which he takes very few, leaving it to the loudest and most ambitious to decide,” wrote Friedman in an opinion piece in Business Day.

The Star newspaper, in an article written by journalist Fiona Forde, headlined “Stand up ‘Baba’ and tell us if we can count on you to lead us”, also criticised Zuma. “The past few days have shown, [that] when in crisis don’t depend on the leader of the ANC,” wrote Forde.

“As the country contemplates the current state of play, Jacob Zuma is nowhere to be seen… as a president-in-waiting, Zuma has fallen short of expectations in… leadership.” In its editorial letter, The Star said the ANC had let the country down.

“The real cause for concern this morning, as we continue to digest these big events, is that the ANC has put the party before the people on this account, in a move that will have serious and long-term consequences for us all.

“Try as they might to convince us otherwise, the events of the past weekend were a blatant attempt to erase Zuma’s challenges from our records by axing the man who was going to pursue them, whatever his agenda,” read the editorial.

The Citizen newspaper said Mbeki’s resignation “fractured rather than unified the party. This was not about party unity. It was about revenge… “The ANC President’s current paymasters will also want their pound of flesh. “Does he [Zuma] have the moral fibre to stand up to them and do what is right for the country?… He was unable to persuade them of the bigger picture on Friday night. When genuine leadership was needed, Zuma finally placed NEC consensus above the interests of us all.”

In a front-page editorial, Afrikaans newspaper Beeld said Zuma supporters used Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling that Mbeki may have been involved in a political plot against Zuma, as an excuse remove Mbeki from office. “Zuma is not fit to govern South Africa while a cloud of corruption still hangs over his head,” read Beeld’s report.

“The dirty and nasty faction fights within the ANC must now come to an end. “Zuma must prove that he is not being held hostage by the fighter dogs in the ANC Youth League, Cosatu [Congress of SA Trade Unions] and the SACP [SA Communist Party].”