Mbeki’s fall, South Africa’s loss

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images If you were investing in South Africa’s promising economy, what is the last thing you’d like to see?  Well, there’s no need for hypotheticals. You could have just watched the news last night. The resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, who for all his flaws oversaw fantastic economic growth, has sent shivers up ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
592460_080922_mbeki5.jpg
592460_080922_mbeki5.jpg

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

If you were investing in South Africa's promising economy, what is the last thing you'd like to see

Well, there's no need for hypotheticals. You could have just watched the news last night.

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

If you were investing in South Africa’s promising economy, what is the last thing you’d like to see

Well, there’s no need for hypotheticals. You could have just watched the news last night.

The resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, who for all his flaws oversaw fantastic economic growth, has sent shivers up investors’ spines. South Africa is one step closer to its next elected leader, leftist Jacob Zuma of dubious economic credentials, who is hugely favored to win polls in 2009. But even more alarming, the country’s respected political system looks closer to operating on tit-for-tat political disputes than ever in its democratic history.

Zuma was once Mbeki’s deputy prime minister, but since a falling out several years ago, he has pushed hard to make his own name. In December, Zuma ousted Mbeki as the party leader of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Just last week, Zuma and Mbeki sparred again — this time over long-pending corruption charges against the former. A court dismissed the charges against Zuma, and the ANC accused President Mbeki of having pressured the courts to go after his rival. Mbeki denied the charges, but tendered his resignation after his party pushed him out.

Since Zuma — not yet a minister or MP — is currently ineligible, ANC political veteran Kgalema Motlanthe looks slated to take over until next year’s elections. Investors are waiting to see if Motlanthe will keep Mbeki’s ministers or stick in a few of his own. Zuma, when he comes, has promised to redo South Africa’s growth, empowering the working classes. No one is yet certain what that will look like, but opposition politician Helen Zille tells BBC that it’s code for “grab the spoils of state.” 

It would be a shame if a bitter political struggle sends South Africa back in time. As retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu eloquently put it, “The way of retribution leads to a banana republic.”

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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