South Africa appoints Motlanthe to succeed Mbeki

South Africa's parliament today elected Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy leader of the ruling ANC, as interim president of a country gripped by the worst political crisis since the end of apartheid.

Motlanthe, overwhelmingly elected in a secret ballot, replaces Thabo Mbeki, who resigned on Sunday after nine years in power.

The ANC withdrew its backing for Mbeki after a judge suggested he had interfered in a graft case against his arch rival, party leader Jacob Zuma, who is widely expected to become president in a general election next year.

Almost one-third of South Africa's cabinet stepped down on Tuesday out of loyalty to Mbeki, who presided over South Africa's longest period of economic growth.

Motlanthe, a quiet spoken leftist intellectual and ally of Zuma, faces huge challenges including slowing economic growth and high inflation. Officials said today consumer inflation hit its highest level since before the end of apartheid in August, at 13.7 per cent.

Reflecting the ANC's dominance of parliament, Motlanthe won 269 votes from members of parliament, compared to 50 for the candidate of the opposition Democratic Alliance.

ANC parliamentarians greeted the announcement of the vote with cheers and clapping.

The upheaval in the ANC, the climax of a power struggle between Mbeki and Zuma, has raised concerns of instability in Africa's biggest economy and a possible split in the formerly monolithic ruling party.

In a sign of the wounds, parliamentary officials said Mbeki would not attend Motlanthe's swearing-in later today despite being invited.

It was not immediately clear when Motlanthe would name his new cabinet although investors are keenly watching to see if highly respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel will be reappointed.