The public should not panic about cabinet resignations, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma said in Mpumalanga on Tuesday.
“The resignations do not pose a crisis and there is no need to panic,” said Zuma at a memorial lecture for Gert Sibande in Secunda, Mpumalanga.
“The situation will be managed carefully to avoid any disruption of services.” Zuma was speaking after a third of the cabinet, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, resigned en masse on Tuesday in the wake of the axing of President Thabo Mbeki.
But as markets trembled, Manuel announced he was willing to accept reappointment, and the African National Congress confirmed that he would get the job back.
Zuma said current political changes were “nothing extraordinary. “It is part of the turbulence that occurs in politics at some point or other and which just needs careful and skilful management. “It is a passing phase.”
Zuma said the situation would soon return to normal “as we know exactly what we should do and are doing it with speed, precision and sensitivity. “We urge our citizens not to panic and to allow the ANC to manage the situation.”
Zuma said that the party had called upon ministers and deputy ministers to stay on. “We respect the decision of those who have resigned.
“The new President will be able to form a capable new government soon that will serve the nation and take forward the struggle to build a better life for all South Africans.” Zuma said public servants in departments whose ministers had resigned were urged to focus on the work at hand.
“The political situation will be resolved soon and should not affect service delivery at all.”
Zuma said the National Executive Committee’s decision to recall Mbeki was painful but necessary for the country and party to move forward. He said ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, if given the task, would serve the country well as president until the next elections.
Zuma said he was pleased with the calm and mature way South Africans handled Mbeki’s recall.
“There is no crisis,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told a news conference in Johannesburg. The resignations, of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, ten ministers and three deputies, follow the ANC’s weekend decision to “recall” Mbeki. They were announced in a terse statement by the presidency shortly before 1pm.
“All the ministers have expressed their availability to assist the incoming administration in the hand-over process and any other assistance that might be sought from them,” the statement said. “The resignations will be effective from the day that the president’s resignation takes effect [Thursday].”
Reflecting apprehension over Manuel, the rand dropped sharply in the immediate wake of the announcement, slipping from 7.98 to the US dollar to 8.16. However when Manuel’s spokeswoman indicated an hour later that he and his deputy, Jabu Moleketi — who also resigned — were available to serve in a new administration, the currency bounced back, and by 2.30pm was trading at 8.14 to the dollar. “We are asking people not to panic about his announcement,” his spokeswoman Thoraya Pandy said.
Award-winning economist Mike Schussler was less impressed. “He resigns and then in the next hour he says he may be prepared to stay on.
“He should have announced his situation upfront — now people in the market are really confused,” he said. Manuel claimed in his Washington briefing that he was surprised the news was received the way it was. He said his resignation was a principled decision because it was common practice in other democratic countries for cabinet ministers to go if the head of state did. This was to allow the incoming president to appoint his own cabinet.
However he said he had assured Zuma and Motlanthe — tipped to be the next president — that he was prepared to serve in the new administration. Mantashe said three other of the “resigning” ministers — Public Services and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Public Works Minister Thoko Didiza and Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour — had also indicated they were willing to stay on. So had Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad, Deputy Correctional Services Minister Loretta Jacobus and Manuel’s deputy, Moleketi.
“Our expectation is that Comrade Kgalema [Motlanthe] will ask them to stay on,” said Mantashe.
Those who resigned and would not be available for reappointment were Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, and Provincial and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi.
Science and Technology Minister Modibudi Mangena, who is also the president of the Azanian People’s Organisation and who announced his resignation on Monday, was a “function of discussion between the ANC and Azapa”, said Mantashe.
He did not want to be drawn on candidates for the vacant positions, saying only the ANC was ready to fill those positions. Mantashe did not want to comment on whether he believed the presidency had been irresponsible to issue the statement announcing the resignations.
“I think that question must be directed to the president. We don’t want to make any assumptions.
We give people the benefit of the doubt but we must correct any [wrong] perceptions.” Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said in reaction to the resignations that they showed deep dissatisfaction with the ANC’s decision on Mbeki.
Many of them had served their office with distinction. “That the ANC is willing to sacrifice them and risk our country’s stability in order to wreak revenge on the president, speaks volumes about its lack of commitment to stable government.”