South Africa wakes up to changed order - Mbeki swansong awaited

South African President Thabo Mbeki was due to officially announce his impending resignation later Sunday in an address to the nation, a day after his African National Congress dramatically demanded he step down seven months before the end of his second term, dpa reported.

Mbeki's address will follow a meeting of his cabinet to discuss his recall by the ANC over a court finding of political interference in the prosecution of his arch-foe, ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court last week, in setting aside corruption and fraud charges against Zuma on a technicality, said the case against Zuma had the "ring of the works of (Czech author Franz) Kafka" about it and implied Mbeki had a hand.

For Zuma's supporters, the ruling provided the ammunition needed to give Mbeki his marching orders, nine months after Zuma ousted him as ANC leader.

Mbeki's spokesman said Saturday the president of nine years had agreed to go "after all constitutional requirements have been met."

An acting president will be named to replace Mbeki until elections, slated for April next year.

While Zuma is the ANC's candidate to lead the party into the elections, it is deemed unlikely he will take over in the interim.

Instead, Baleka Mbete, the pro-Zuma speaker of parliament, has emerged as a likely candidate to fill the post, Sunday newspapers reported.

Despite appeals by the ANC for Mbeki's cabinet to stay on to help smooth the transition, some of his staunchest allies, including Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, have indicated they will step down with him.

The cabinet meeting was expected to give a clearer picture of who will remain.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported that some senior Mbeki supporters, including Defence MInister Mosiuoa Lekota, planned to launch a new party. Lekota's deputy Mluleki George told the paper details would be released "in a few days or a week."

Many South Africans have expressed dismay at the ANC's refusal to let Mbeki serve out his remaining months in office to avoid uncertainty at a time of global economic jitters.

Under the headline Mbeki's Shame, The Sunday Independent remarked: "Exit the prince, but new leadership is "not ready to govern."

Some have speculated that Mbeki's firing was aimed at preventing Zuma returning to the dock before becoming president.

The National Prosecuting Authority had vowed to appeal the dismissal of Zuma's corruption case, which relates to payments he received from a convicted fraudster. The appeal promised another showdown between the state and Zuma's supporters.

With Mbeki gone, analysts say, the ANC might be tempted to replace the head of the NPA with a more compliant figure that would shelve the case.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe admitted that the appeal had been the last straw. "If the case is pursued it will continue to be a point of division in the ANC. That's the main issue."

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