afrol News, 22 June - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka today was appointed South Africa's new Deputy President, raising hopes that the country will get its first female leader when President Thabo Mbeki expectedly steps down in 2009. The 49-year-old Mineral and Energy Minister has so far been remarked for her outstanding work to economically empower South Africa's black majority.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka has been a government Minister since 1999. Besides the Foreign Minister, the new Deputy President has been among the most visible women in South African politics during the last years. Responsible for the mining sector - the country's leading industry - Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka has been forced to make tough and controversial decisions and define policies affecting the national economy at large.
The decision to name Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka South Africa's new Deputy President was announced by President Mbeki at a cabinet meeting this morning. The President had further appointed Ms Lindiwe Hendricks as the new Minister of Minerals and Energy, according to a government statement.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka follows Jacob Zuma in the South African vice-presidency after the latter was fired last week due to corruption allegations. Mr Zuma now is formally being charged with corruption by a Durban court, a decision he has welcomed to be able to clear his name in court. He remains Vice President of South Africa's ruling ANC party.
Before his political fall, Mr Zuma was widely predicted to become South Africa's next President, in terms with succession traditions in the ANC. President Mbeki is expected to stand down in 2009, when he has served the two full five-year terms allowed by the South African constitution. With the downfall of Mr Zuma, it suddenly became less clear who would be the favourite to become the ANC's official candidate in 2009.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka now stands a great chance of becoming South Africa's next President, unless ANC Vice President Zuma manages to make a political comeback within the next three and a half years. Mr Zuma still has a much stronger position within the ANC and its aligned parties and trade unions - a position the new state Deputy President will have to fight hard to gain.
If Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka indeed manages to become the ANC's presidential candidate in 2009, she will most surely become the country's first woman President and the continent's first elected female leader. The symbolic importance of such a scenario cannot be underestimated in Africa.
South Africa's new Deputy President during the last years has become most known for her policies to economically empower the country's black majority population. In 2002, her controversial Mining Charter was approved by government. The Charter foresees that within 12 years, more than a quarter of South Africa's mining industry must be in black ownership. This policy is seen as a major step in breaking the age-old economic monopoly of the country's white minority.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka however also has gathered much negative press attention lately, in particular as she headed the election observer team to Zimbabwe of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and claimed that the rigged vote in the neighbour country was "credible". She has also been in the spotlight for a questionable loan given to her brother.
The new Deputy President, born in KwaZulu Natal in 1955, graduated from the National University of Lesotho with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science and education. She married with a South African man during her exile in Switzerland in the 1980s and has one child. Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka was engaged in civil society work from 1984 to 1992. In 1994, she became an MP for the recently legalised ANC and three years later, she joined the party's National Executive Committee.
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