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ANC to appoint South Africa's acting president

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s ruling ANC will appoint the country’s caretaker leader on Monday, after President Thabo Mbeki’s ouster by the party deepened the worst political crisis since apartheid ended.

A sombre Mbeki, who presided over South Africa’s longest period of economic growth, told the nation on Sunday that he had tendered his resignation.

The African National Congress asked Mbeki to quit before the end of his term next year, eight days after a judge threw out corruption charges against party leader Jacob Zuma, suggesting there was high-level political meddling in the case.

The political crisis may worry investors. South Africa’s rand currency weakened in overnight electronic trading, trading 1.66 percent lower at 8.0420 against the dollar.

Mbeki, who took over from Nelson Mandela as president in 1999, said he remained a loyal ANC member and respected the party’s decision but repeated that he did not influence the prosecution in the case of Zuma, his rival.

ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa said in a televised debate on Sunday that the party planned to announce an acting president on Monday.

Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete is expected to be given the job. Zuma, who holds no government post, is unlikely to have such an interim role and is all but certain to become head of state in 2009 elections.

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Phosa said the ANC wants the cabinet to remain, underlining investor fears that the departure of experienced, pro-Mbeki ministers could hurt the country.

“We want the Cabinet to stay. We are very happy if they stay and we do these things together,” Phosa said.

The parliamentary caucus of the ANC was due to meet in Cape Town at 9 a.m. (8 a.m. British time) while Zuma is scheduled to hold a news briefing at 12 p.m. (11 a.m. British time).

Mbeki has been credited with ensuring growth and attracting foreign investors to Africa’s biggest economy. He was also instrumental in building a black middle class.


But critics and Zuma’s allies in trade unions and the Communist Party say Mbeki was out of touch with millions of poor blacks.

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South Africans, whose social and economic problems have been overshadowed by the fierce rivalry between Mbeki and Zuma, are bracing for a period of uncertainty and a deeply divided ANC is unlikely to ease their concerns over rampant crime, social ills and an AIDS epidemic ravaging millions, analysts say.

Supporters of Mbeki may split from the ANC and contest elections as a breakaway party in 2009, South Africa’s Sunday Times said.

The move threatens to shatter the foundations of the country’s post-apartheid political landscape, which has been dominated by the ANC.

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Although Mbeki’s willingness to give up power without a fight suggests a smooth transition of power, a number of ministers have threatened to resign rather than serve in a Zuma-controlled government.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, widely respected by the market, will not resign, his office said on Saturday.

Now that Mbeki is out of the picture, Zuma could come under stronger pressure from leftist allies in trade unions to ease poverty while he tries to win over the confidence of foreign investors who would not welcome more government spending.

“The main challenge is trying to end long-term uncertainty. If he can make progress in the fields of service delivery and unemployment and education it could go a long way,” said Mike Davies, Middle East and Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.

Editing by Charles Dick