22/09/2008 11:20 - (SA)
Moffet Mofokeng, Caiphus Kgosana and Sabelo Ndlangisa
Pretoria - Deputy-president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is set to lead an exodus of cabinet ministers who are unhappy with the ANC national executive committee (NEC) decision to axe President Thabo Mbeki.
Despite this, ANC president Jacob Zuma is expected to reassure ANC deployees in government that the party wants them to remain in their positions.
This comes after the decision of the all-powerful ANC NEC to sack Mbeki following Judge Chris Nicholson's ruling that suggested that Mbeki, or some in his executive, might have interfered with the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to charge Zuma.
Although it is generally accepted that Nicholson's ruling has impugned the integrity of cabinet, it is the decision of cabinet and the NPA to appeal the judge's ruling that forced the ANC to fire Mbeki.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the Nicholson judgment had provided the ANC with the opportunity to put an end to Zuma's legal woes.
"The biggest worry for us is the question of the reversal of the possible closure of that chapter," Mantashe said.
"That case, in our view, is not in the public or national interest. If the case is pursued, it will continue to be a point of division in the ANC. That's the main issue," he said.
City Press can reveal that Mlambo-Ngcuka has told her colleagues in cabinet and some top officials in the presidency that she will resign the moment Mbeki hands over his resignation letter.
"Mlambo-Ngcuka has always been the embodiment of this conspiracy against Zuma. After all, she is Bulelani's (the former NPA boss) wife. She has been under siege from the day she took over as deputy president. Half the ministers are going to follow her," a senior official in the presidency said.
Some of the ministers who are expected to quit when Mbeki resigns are his right-hand man, Essop Pahad, Public Works Minister Thoko Didiza, her colleague at public enterprises, Alec Erwin, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri.
Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has already indicated that he will stay on despite earlier rumours that he would follow Mbeki.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was appointed Mbeki's deputy after Zuma's axing in 2005, has in the past wanted to resign because of the hostility she endured from Zuma's supporters but Mbeki urged her to stay on.
At the heated NEC meeting in Kempton Park this weekend, a number of ministers - among them Education Minister Naledi Pandor and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - and Mbeki's policy guru, Joel Netshitenzhe, argued for Mbeki to be allowed to serve out his term in vain.
"Trevor (Manuel) never said a word. Nkosazana (Dlamini-Zuma) was very incoherent. Zola Skweyiya said that it was very painful for him. He said: 'I have known this man for too long. It is painful'," another NEC member reported.
On the other hand, Transport Minister Jeff Radebe, Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, businessman Tokyo Sexwale, SACP boss Blade Nzimande and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema successfully argued for Mbeki's removal from office.
Malema, according to some NEC members, went as far as to threaten to mobilise the youth if the ANC NEC failed to fire Mbeki.
Another source said Sexwale told the meeting: "We can't live another day with this man."
Zuma, who met Mbeki on Friday, told the meeting that Mbeki should be allowed fly to the United Nations to represent the country and only resign on his return.
Pahad has indicated that he will resign in sympathy with Mbeki.
He said though he had not discussed it with Mbeki, he had personally decided to go if the president was asked to leave office.
"I was appointed by him and therefore if he resigns I shall also resign," he said.
"I don't think it has been correct. I think much later they will recognise his great legacy, there's no doubt about that. He has been a great leader of the ANC and a great leader of this country. Even if some people don't recognise it now, they will certainly recognise it in time to come."