The African National Congress (ANC) said on Saturday it had decided to recall President Thabo Mbeki before the end of his term next year, a move that could collapse the government and prompt early elections.
Mbeki has been mired in accusations that he conspired to undermine ANC leader Jacob Zuma.
“Our movement has been through a trying period and we are determined to heal the rift that might exist. In light of this and after a long and difficult discussion, the ANC has decided to recall the president of the republic before his term of office expires,' ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters inKempton Park on the East Rand.
'Our decision has been communicated to him,' said Mantashe.
Mantashe said that Mbeki's reaction to the news was 'normal'.
'He didn't display shock or any depression. He welcomed the news and agreed that he is going to participate in the parliamentary process. If
I said he was excited I would be exaggerating.'
Presidency spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said Mbeki had accepted the decision.
Mantashe said the decision was taken 'as an effort to heal and unite the African National Congress'.
Mantashe said the decision was a political way to deal with the implications of Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson's ruling that Mbeki may have been involved in a political conspiracy against Zuma.
'The biggest worry of the ANC had been the question of a reversal of the closure of the chapter that the Nicholson judgement seemed to have promised.'
The National Prosecuting Authority's decision to appeal the judgement had become a worry, said Mantashe.
'If pursued it will continue to be a point of division for the ANC.'
When asked whether a vote had been taken to reach the decision, Mantashe said: 'We discussed until we reached a consensus'.
When asked what the reaction would be if other Cabinet ministers were to resign, Mantashe said they were considered 'on the one hand, deployees who had mutual respect and commitment to the ANC, but on the other hand they were also individuals'.
Mlambo-Ngcuka stands by her man Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will formally hand in her resignation if Mbeki resigns, her spokesperson said on Saturday.
Mbeki is expected to address the media and the country later in the day, in which he is expected to comment on the party's decision.
Denzel Taylor said that Mlambo-Ngcuka would hand in her resignation depending on whether Mbeki hands in his resignation.
'I can confirm that the deputy president will resign if the president is asked to step down and resigns accordingly,' Taylor said.
'She was appointed by the president and has served him loyally. She feels that it is the right thing to do.'
Insiders in the party told the Mail & Guardian that although it is now imperative for the ANC to get rid of Mbeki, it must be done in a way that will not force the party to go the polls prematurely, as this will throw its planning into disarray.
The plan is to replace Mbeki with parliamentary Speaker and ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, but this will not be done through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence or by impeachment.
Removing Mbeki from the Presidency could rattle investors with whom he is popular because of his pro-business policies. But he has been on thin ice with powerful trade unions and other Zuma supporters, who accuse Mbeki of trying to undermine the man who replaced him as ANC leader.
Fired as Mbeki's deputy president in 2005 after he was linked to alleged wrongdoing in the multimillion-rand arms deal, Zuma defeated Mbeki in a bitter leadership contest late last year that ended at the ANC's Polokwane conference in December. Zuma is seen as the front-runner to succeed him as head of state next year.
Mbeki is barred by the Constitution from a third term as state president.
The move to oust the president picked up speed after Judge Chris Nicholson last week in the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that corruption charges against Zuma were not legal, and said there had been high-level meddling in the case.
Zuma's camp has branded the prosecution a political witch-hunt by Mbeki and his aides.
Mbeki, who has consistently denied he hatched a political conspiracy against Zuma, lashed out at his critics on Friday even as the NEC -- which is dominated by Zuma allies -- met to discuss his fate.
'It impoverishes our society that some resort to the tactic of advancing allegations with no fact to support these,' the president said in a statement issued by his office. He said he was not involved in the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to appeal against Nicholson's ruling.- Reuters, SAPA