Three South African former presidents for the first time issued a joint call for action Friday to end the nation’s “worsening” political crisis, the latest campaign targeting President Jacob Zuma.
In an unprecedented move, all living former heads of state – Thabo Mbeki, F. W. de Klerk and Kgalema Motlanthe, joined by ex-deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka – announced a national dialogue to try to end the “destructive” crisis.
“Practically it is impossible for anyone in our country to argue against this reality of national sickness in our politics, in our economy,” said Mbeki on launching the national talks, sponsored by their respective foundations.
Calls have intensified in recent months for Zuma to step down following a mounting series of scandals.
“Our country is immersed in a general and worsening crisis,” said Mbeki.
“So it is that the rose our people planted, as represented by the victory of 1994, is indeed sick,” Mbeki added, referring to the year that marked the end of apartheid.
De Klerk, who was the last apartheid president, said the country “is in the grip of the most serious challenges that have confronted it since the establishment of our non-racial constitutional democracy 23 years ago”.
Squarely blaming Zuma for the crisis, he said “the core problem is that our president is not carrying out his duties in terms of …the constitution.”
Zuma is facing a slew of corruption allegations and an ongoing crisis over a controversial cabinet shake-up in which he removed a respected finance minister.
The reshuffle caused the rand currency to plummet and the country’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded to “junk status” by two global agencies.
It also triggered unprecedented criticism from within the ruling African National Congress top brass and its allies, and spawned massive public protests for Zuma’s ouster.
A court on Thursday ordered Zuma to provide records behind the rationale to reshuffle the cabinet.
Motlanthe insisted the time had come for action to reclaim the country.
“If we allow this unwholesome character of politics to continue while we wallow in silence, history will never forgive our generation,” he said.
“This gathering becomes a national call. It seeks to be a turning point in the way people of our country relate to the political process,” he added. “It is only the beginning”.
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