Eleven South African cabinet members have quit in the wake of President Thabo Mbeki's resignation, prompting fears of instability and the ruling ANC leader to downplay any panic.
The cabinet members stepped down shortly after parliament voted 299 to 10 to approve Mbeki's exit from office, ending the nine-year administration of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
The African National Congress (ANC) has picked its deputy chief, Kgalema Motlanthe, to replace Mbeki until April elections.
Lawmakers will vote on Motlanthe's nomination on Thursday.
“The (cabinet) resignations do not pose a crisis and there is no need to panic,” said ANC chief Jacob Zuma during a speech in Secunda, in the northeast province of Mpumalanga.
“The situation will be managed carefully to avoid any disruption of services,” added Zuma, considered likely to be voted president in next year's elections.
Finance Minister steps down
The country's widely-respected Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, seen by investors as vital to the country's stable economy and impressive growth, was among the 11 ministers of the 31-member cabinet who handed their resignations.
Manuel's spokesman made it clear that he was ready to serve the new administration, but his announcement led to market jitters with the rand slipping from 7.98 to 8.16 to the US dollar.
The president's office said the ministers' resignations would also take effect on Thursday.
The ministers resigning include Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who spearheaded a turnaround of the country's AIDS policies, and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, a key negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.
Opposition parties expressed concern about the resignations, with Inkatha Freedom Party Chief Whip Koos van der Merwe telling parliament it was an “unmitigated disaster” and a “watershed moment in history.”
The main opposition Democratic Alliance's Sandra Botha said events showed “the division (in the ANC) is not a crack, it is a canyon.”
Mbeki is believed to have asked cabinet members to stay put in the interests of stability, and analysts have said the country would not face a crisis if the transition was well managed and government ministers did not bail out en masse.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the exodus was not a crisis, as only six of them had indicated they would not serve in a new government.
“The rest of the ministers have confirmed that they (are stepping) down to allow the new president to make his own appointments,” Mantashe told reporters.
The resignations came after Mbeki bowed to pressure from the ANC to stand down in what the opposition described as a settling of political scores.
Zuma said the decision to recall Mbeki had been “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” taken in the party's history.
The outgoing president had been increasingly at loggerheads with his party, which split into two camps behind him and Zuma, after deciding to run for a third term as party president at a crunch ANC conference in December last year.
Mbeki, 66, who succeeded Mandela in June 1999, becomes the country's first democratically-elected president to be forced out of office before the end of his term.
Mbeki attempted to salvage his reputation in the Constitutional Court on Monday, as he challenged a court ruling which he says cost him his job as president.
In a September 12 ruling, Judge Chris Nicholson dismissed a corruption case against Zuma, hinting that Mbeki had interfered in the decision to prosecute his foe.
“It is unfair and unjust for me to be judged and condemned on the basis of the findings in the Zuma matter,” said Mbeki in his application.
“The interests of justice, in my respectful submission would demand that the matter be rectified.
“These adverse findings have led to my being recalled by my political party, the ANC — a request I have acceded to as a committed and loyal member of the ANC for the past 52 years,” Mbeki said.