In other developments:
Mbeki’s lifelong ascent through the ranks of the ANC came to a crashing halt in the early hours of yesterday morning when party treasurer Mat hews Phosa declared a consensus in favour of his dismissal.
The charge had been led by bitter Mbeki rivals Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Blade Nzimande.
Sexwale and Ramaphosa, who were once presidential contenders, argued that Mbeki had abused state power to push them out of politics.
Sexwale even proposed that Mbeki should be hauled before an ANC disciplinary committee on charges of abusing state power.
This could add weight to Zuma’s reported call at a recent meeting of alliance officials for a “war council” to look into what he called the looting of public assets during Mbeki’s rule.
Zuma’s proposal was accepted by representatives of the ANC, the SA Communist Party and Cosatu, but no time frame was agreed.
Mbeki’s fate was sealed when Judge Chris Nicholson last week accused him of subverting organs of state in order to pursue Zuma’s prosecution on corruption charges.
At Friday’s meeting, Nzimande, the general secretary of the SACP , accused Mbeki of abusing his power and of causing tensions within the ANC alliance.
Mbeki ally Joel Netshitenzhe pleaded with members to allow the president to finish his term or call for early elections. But even minister of arts and culture Pallo Jordan’s warning of dire consequences for the country fell on deaf ears, as did minister of social development Zola Skweyiya’s plea for cool heads.
Mbeki’s office confirmed his sacking in a terse statement: “Following the decision of the national executive committee of the African National Congress to recall President Thabo Mbeki, the president has obliged and will step down after all constitutional requirements have been met.”
Minister of foreign affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will lead South Africa’s delegation to the UN this week.
The constitution requires the cabinet to appoint an acting president as soon as Mbeki quits. The acting president, who should be a member of the cabinet, will manage the election of a replacement for Mbeki within 30 days of his resignation.
The constitution makes it easy for the ANC, which holds an overwhelming majority in parliament, to install Mbete as president for the remainder of Mbeki’s final five-year term.
It would then be her job to dissolve parliament and call a general election between April and July next year.
A senior parliamentary official said Mbeki’s resignation and the election of a new president could be achieved in a matter of days.
He said Mbeki would have to hand in his resignation to Mbete, as speaker.
ANC insiders said Zuma was trying late yesterday to persuade deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to cancel her announced resignation.
If she refuses, ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is likely to be named deputy president.
Other veteran Mbeki supporters are fighting back.
Mluleki George, the deputy minister of defence, declined to confirm whether he and other Mbeki supporters, including Lekota and Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, were involved in an initiative to form a new party, but he said an announcement was imminent.
“I’m not in a position to discuss this thing at this stage, but in a few days or a week, you will hear the details,” he said.
Organisers behind the proposed new party said backers met in Gauteng recently and would meet again this week to decide whether to register the still-unnamed party for the 2009 election.
Nelson Mandela Foundation chairman Jakes Gerwel said Mandela had “noted the NEC’s decision”.
“He will return to South Africa on Monday, after which he will request a briefing on the matter,” he said.
Mbeki’s brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, a political analyst who is sharply critical of the outgoing president, slammed yesterday’s ANC move as a “recipe for civil war”.
“My view is that what the ANC national executive is doing or has done is setting a very dangerous precedent for South Africa, which could lead to the kind of civil war we saw in Kenya at the beginning of this year,” he said.
“In Kenya they imposed a head of state, which is what led to a civil war where 1600 people were killed in a couple of weeks and hundreds of thousands lost their homes.”
He said impeachment would have been the correct route to follow if the party believed Mbeki had done wrong.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille labeled Mbeki’s ouster a “power grab”.
“This is the ‘political solution’ that Jacob Zuma and his followers have wanted for a long time. It’s all about revenge and settling political scores.
“It is now predictable that Jacob Zuma or one of his proxies will block the truth about Zuma from coming out at a court of law,” she said.
Former President FW de Klerk said: “All that I would like to say at the moment is that it is unfortunate that a sitting president should be forced from office before the end of his term.
“At this stage we should also give proper recognition to the many achievements of President Mbeki’s term in office.”
Human rights campaigner Zachie Achmat, who faced down Mbeki over HIV/Aids, said: “This is long overdue. Personally I would have liked to see him impeached for causing the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV; for the corruption of the arms deal; for the undermining of every independent state institution.”
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the move would make it easier for Zuma’s backers to protect him from prosecution.
“Look at the destruction they have been doing, attacking the Constitutional Court, attacking everybody, so there’s no stopping of these cowboys,” he said.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said South Africans needed stable leadership to confront “the enormous challenges we face, like crime, poverty and unemployment”.
An Mbeki ally said yesterday that “the reason they are moving so fast to remove him is that they believe he is entrenching his own people”.
Among those expected to quit are the minister of public service and administration, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi; the minister of public works, Thoko Didiza; minister in the presidency Essop Pahad; minister of public enterprises Alec Erwin, who managed Eskom into the power crisis that hit in January; and Jabu Moleketi, the deputy minister of finance.
Thoraya Pandy, a spokesman for minister of finance Trevor Manuel, said: “The finance minister has not resigned and as far as I know he will not resign.”
Parliament’s foreign affairs portfolio committee chairman and senior ANC MP Job Sithole said Mbeki’s removal could have implications for the country’s diplomats abroad.
“There are diplomats who, when the president of the ANC visits abroad, want to have nothing to do with him.
“They pretend they do not know him. Either they will have to voluntarily go or they will have to be removed.
“It was their duty to service any senior politician of the country, be it a leader of the opposition or not ,” he said.
In another move that could create further divisions within the ruling party, the NEC was yesterday set to disband the entire ANC provincial executive committee in North West.
Most of the delegates from the province supported Mbeki at the Polokwane conference last year. A task team, led by the ANC’s head of campaigns, Fikile Mbalula, found there was vote rigging at the April provincial conference .
Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust chairman Don Mkhwanazi welcomed Mbeki’s sacking.
“People around me have sprung into singing. I think whatever is done must be done in the best interest of the country.”
Durban businessman and Zuma backer Vivian Reddy said: “I think that the ANC has made a decision that will be positive for the organisation and members of the ANC. A Zuma presidency will be very good for the minorities in South Africa.”