Mbeki era closes as ANC elects Zuma

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The Independent Online

The South African President's world crumbled around him last night after his party rejected his spirited bid to cling to power.

Members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) voted Thabo Mbeki out of the leadership of the party by a fairly wide margin of 724 votes in favour of his nemesis, Jacob Zuma, who is now on course to succeed him as president of the country.

Not only was Mr Mbeki personally humiliated within the ANC, but his chief allies were rejected by party members in a vote for the top six officials.

Mr Mbeki and his allies lost the positions of president, deputy president, national chairperson, secretary general, deputy secretary general and treasurer general in a clean sweep to Mr Zuma's allies.

This means that Mr Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999, after having served him earlier as his deputy, will no longer exert any influence over the governance of South Africa once his term as head of state expires in 2009.

It emerged last night that Mr Mbeki's close associates proposed that he should withdraw with them in order to avoid certain defeat, but he refused. Mr Mbeki is now likely to face pressure from Mr Zuma's supporters to resign as President before 2009 to avoid creating two centres of power.

Mr Mbeki lost power in a day filled with drama. The 3,983 conference delegates had earlier in the day become restless when polling was further delayed by three hours due to the late arrival of ballot papers.

The voting, which should have taken place on Sunday, only happened 48 hours later after delegates opposed to Mr Mbeki had rejected a proposal to use electronic voting. The chaotic meeting then settled for manual voting and counting. Mr Zuma's supporters immediately burst into song and danced on top of conference tables once the election results were announced.

Mr Mbeki, who had earlier been ordered to vacate the top table with other senior ANC officials before the results were announced, accompanied Mr Zuma back to the podium after he was declared new president of the ANC. On his way back, Mr Mbeki cut a forlorn and lonely figure, with even security guards ignoring him as the entire conference hall applauded Mr Zuma.

Mr Mbeki polled 1,505 votes against Mr Zuma's 2,329. The result mirrored the losses suffered by Mr Mbeki in primary voting by delegates last month before this week's conference.

But while Mr Zuma is now firmly placed to succeed Mr Mbeki as head of state, he faces further obstacles. South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority has indicated that it will recharge him with corruption involving alleged kickbacks he received in a controversial multibillion-dollar arms tender. But a defiant Mr Zuma has vowed not to resign as ANC leader even if he is recharged.

This has prompted fears that South Africa could well be plunged into instability and violence if the charges resurface. His key aide, Schabir Shaik, is already serving a 15-year jail sentence for corruption.

"It's going to be particularly precarious when Jacob Zuma gets charged, if he does get charged around the corruption scandal," said the political analyst Adam Habib, who has predicted two years of political turmoil. But analysts also said that it was unlikely that the country's economic policies would change under the 65-year-old Zulu populist, whose career has even survived rape accusations.

Mr Zuma had little formal schooling, was a leader of the exiled ANC's military wing and, like the former president Nelson Mandela, served time at the Robben Island prison.

He spent many months building support among the ANC's rank-and-file and the trade union movement, but also reached out to religious groups, white Afrikaners and the business community in campaigning.