What next for SA?

ANALYSIS – South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) called on President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday to step down.

Mbeki has agreed to accept the ANC’s decision once all constitutional obligations are met.

Here are some questions and answers on what is likely to happen next in South Africa’s biggest political crisis since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

How can the ANC push Mbeki out?

A South African president can be removed if two-thirds of parliament supports a vote outlining he was guilty of a serious violation of the constitution or laws.

He can also be deposed through a vote of no confidence which needs just a majority.

But the process is more simple if Mbeki resigns – parliament must then appoint a new president within 30 days. With the ANC’s more-than-two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, this task should be a relatively easy process.

Why did the ANC ask him to step down

Mbeki has been locked in a rivalry battle with ANC leader Jacob Zuma since 2005 when Zuma became embroiled in a corruption scandal. Mbeki fired Zuma as deputy president, enraging trade unions and rank-and-file ANC members.

The left was angry over Mbeki’s pro-business policies and accused him of mounting a campaign to ruin Zuma’s political career. Support from unions and members of the ANC youth wing helped Zuma defeat Mbeki for the ANC leadership late last year.

The infighting reached a climax last week when a High Court judge threw out graft charges against Zuma and suggested that high-level officials may have meddled in the case.

The prosecutors’ decision to appeal the ruling further angered Zuma’s supporters, who called for Mbeki to be fired.

Who will replace Mbeki?

According to the Constitution, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka could become president, but she has said she will step down should Mbeki be forced to leave office.

A cabinet minister or the speaker of the parliament could then be called on to lead a transitional government until an election is held. Zuma is widely expected to win the election and become president.

Will this worry foreign investors?

Uncertainty sparked by Mbeki’s resignation is likely to weigh on investor sentiment and the rand currency. An early announcement on the way forward, however, could ease some of those concerns.

The fact that Mbeki has agreed not to fight the decision may calm some nerves. How his cabinet, and in particular, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, react, is crucial. Manuel and Mbeki have presided over South Africa’s longest period of economic growth.

A spokesperson for Manuel said he would not resign. The ANC also said it wanted Mbeki’s cabinet ministers to remain in their positions in the interests of national stability.

Mbeki’s administration has been widely respected by markets and there are concerns that Zuma could tilt left as a result of his ties to trade unions and the small but influential communist party. Zuma has tried to reassure foreign investors that he will remain committed to growth and not shift away from current policies.

What about Mbeki’s legacy?

Mbeki enjoyed the limelight briefly this month after brokering a Zimbabwean power-sharing deal that could end the southern African nation’s deep political and economic crisis. But Mbeki’s problems at home overshadowed the success.

Despite steering the country to prosperity, Mbeki has been accused of failing to dent poverty, unemployment and tackle the country’s Aids epidemic, one of the worst in the world. There is discontent among millions of black South Africans who still lack electricity, water and other basic services. The country also has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.