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S. African Businessmen Deny Charges of Plot to Harm Mbeki

Three leading South African businessmen have denied allegations that they are plotting to oust or harm President Thabo Mbeki. The charges, made Tuesday by the country's safety and security minister, have sparked an outcry both inside and outside the ruling party. The former premier of Mpumalanga province has ridiculed allegations that he is involved in some kind of plot against President Mbeki.

Matthews Phosa spoke to South African state radio. "The allegations are not worthy of any comment," he said. "They are insulting the intelligence of ordinary South Africans."

Several days ago, South African Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete said police were investigating a possible plot to oust or harm the president. At the time, he did not say who was involved. But he said they included top leaders of the ruling party, the African National Congress.

Late Tuesday, the minister provoked an outcry when he named three alleged conspirators. He spoke in an interview aired on state television's nightly Xhosa-language newscast. Mr. Tshwete said, 'the people I am talking about are people like Matthews Phosa, people like Tokyo Sexwale, and people like Cyril Ramaphosa.'

All three have vehemently denied the charges. Mr. Ramaphosa, a former ANC secretary-general, says he remains committed to the unity of the party and South Africa.

The allegation that those three men could be involved in a plot to harm the president has sent shock waves through the ruling party and the nation.

All three are former ANC leaders and high office holders. All three have left active politics to concentrate on their business endeavors. But all three also still have significant political support within the ruling party.

Political observers say it is highly unlikely that any of them was actually plotting to physically harm the president. But the observers say it is possible that the men were considering - either individually or together - mounting a challenge to Mr. Mbeki's leadership of the ANC.

That possibility sparked an angry response from the country's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). DA Chief Whip Douglas Gibson accused the ruling party of using state resources to settle an internal dispute within the ANC.

Another opposition leader, Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement, says he thinks the allegations are an ANC ploy to discourage potential rivals from challenging Mr. Mbeki.

A spokesman for the ANC denies there is a campaign to discredit potential rivals to the president. The president told an independent television station that anyone who knows anything about a plot against him should come forward to share that information with authorities.