Monday, September 22, 2008

South Africans 'scared'

Maybe those one million people that shipped out were not wrong after all. Too late now. I say stick it out and see what happens. I am.

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The sudden ouster of President Thabo Mbeki in the biggest political crisis since apartheid has left some South Africans nervous and uncertain.

People had grown accustomed to the long and bitter rivalry between Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who replaced him last December as leader of the ruling African National Congress.

But after the ANC forced Mbeki on Saturday to agree to step down as president, some are apprehensive about the prospect of political limbo until a general election next year which Zuma is widely expected to win.

"They should have let him finish his term. People in his government have experience. They may just leave. Now we have no idea what will happen," said Peter Mathonsi, 28, a baggage salesman. "I don't like Mbeki. But this is not right."

Hair salon manager Nicole Carromea, 25, is frightened by both how easily the ANC forced Mbeki out and the prospect of a South Africa led by Zuma, who has been dogged by corruption allegations and a rape trial in which he was acquitted.

"I guess money and power can do anything. It's scary. It's time to consider going back to Portugal," said South Africa-born Carromea, whose parents are Portuguese immigrants.

Mbeki's ouster came after a judge on September 12 threw out corruption charges against Zuma and suggested there had been political meddling in the case. That infuriated pro-Zuma militants in the ANC who led the charge to push out Mbeki.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said the party was committed to stability and a strong government.

Lizel Oschger is not so sure. She worries the political shakeup could mean Zuma will become the next Robert Mugabe, president of neighboring Zimbabwe, where the economy is in ruins after nearly three decades of his iron rule.

"This is scary. We will stay in South Africa now but will assess the situation," she said, holding her young daughter.

The end of the rivalry between Mbeki and Zuma has brought some relief to Ben Pierre Macherbe, 42, a property developer, even though he has some reservations about Zuma.

"Zuma is popular but he is not a statesman. As long as we have someone who can act as a statesman for Zuma we should be fine," said Macherbe, standing beside a huge statue of Mbeki's predecessor Nelson Mandela at a Johannesburg mall.

Since taking power in 1999, Mbeki has presided over nearly a decade of economic growth, the longest such expansion the country has seen. But he was widely seen as out of touch with South Africa's core problems of poverty, crime and AIDS.

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