The ousting of Thabo Mbeki as President of South Africa is nothing short of a bloodless coup.
A coup d’etat is defined as “a sudden and decisive action resulting in a change of government illegally or by force”.
The dismissal of Mbeki and the consequent resignation of almost one-third of the Cabinet certainly constitutes a sudden and illegal change of government and is therefore a coup.
Mbeki was elected as president by the National Assembly, constituted of members of Parliament who have been elected by citizens of South Africa. In terms of the Constitution, the president — as head of the national executive — is accountable to the National Assembly. Neither Parliament nor the electorate were involved in his dismissal.
The NEC of the ANC, acting on its own accord decided that Mbeki’s position had become untenable. This action undermines the very foundations of our nascent democracy. The NEC took this decision without even taking a vote within its own membership on an issue of immense importance. So much for democracy with the ANC.
Our Constitution “Lay[s] the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law”. In the ousting of Mbeki, neither the will of the people nor the rule of law prevailed. While Mbeki is a member of the ANC, he is first and foremost head of state, head of the national executive and leader of the nation and all South Africans. Neither the national executive nor the nation was permitted any say in his dismissal.
Mbeki has certainly made many mistakes that may warrant his dismissal. However, the Constitution establishes a clear procedure for the dismissal of the president. It states: “If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the president, the president and the other members of the Cabinet and any deputy ministers must resign.”
The role of Parliament to determine Mbeki’s suitability to continue as head of state is crucial and this role has been completely usurped. A debate on a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly would have provided an opportunity for the accusers and defenders of Mbeki to present their views. At the moment the reasons for his dismissal are very unclear.
The supporters of Jacob Zuma, with his acquiescence, have shown that they will engage in mob rule, including threatening violence, to impose their decisions. The dismissal of Mbeki has shaken the foundations of our democracy by undermining the Constitution and this sets the tone for a Zuma presidency.
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