South Africa’s ruling party ordered Jacob Zuma on February 13 to step down as head of state but gave him no firm deadline to go, setting the stage for a potential fight to wrest him from power.
Leading members of the African National Congress now want new party leader Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Zuma. Zuma had promised to respond to the order by Wednesday. That appeared to herald the end of the road for a leader whose near decade in power divided Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid ‘Rainbow Nation’.
Since mid-November when Ramaphosa emerged as a real ANC leadership prospect, economic confidence has started to pick up. The rand – a telling barometer of Zuma’s fortunes – has gained more than 15 percent against the dollar over that period.
In explaining its decision to order Zuma to leave power, the ANC did not refer directly to the scandals surrounding his presidency. But it said his continued presence could “erode the renewed hope and confidence among South Africans” since the choice of new party leaders in December.
There was confusion over whether Zuma would address the public. Privately owned eNCA TV said Zuma would hold a media briefing at 10:00 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) on Wednesday, but an anchor on the state broadcaster SABC said the presidency had denied plans for such a briefing. Zuma’s spokesman could not be reached for comment.
ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule said he had met Zuma personally to pass on the order to resign “The organization expects him to go.” Zuma had asked the party to give him a notice period of three to six months but that had been rejected, Magashule said. The NEC believes that this is an urgent matter so it should be treated with urgency,” he said.
South Africa’s cabinet meeting set for Wednesday has been postponed indefinitely, the government’s communication service said. ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe told a meeting in the Eastern Cape province that the party had given Zuma an ultimatum to resign or face a motion of no-confidence, the Independent online news service reported. “Once you resist we are going to let you be thrown out through the vote of no confidence because you disrespect the organization and you disobey it, therefore we are going to let you be devoured by the vultures,” Mantashe said in a message to Zuma, according to the Independent.
Zuma is already facing a no-confidence motion in parliament set for Feb. 22 and brought by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters. The ANC could throw its weight behind such a vote if it lost patience with Zuma. But that would be a painful option for the ruling party. “Instructing MPs to vote with the opposition and against their own leader would add to splits in the party and provide an embarrassing political coup to the opposition,” a leader Ashbourne said.
Zuma himself engineered the ouster of former President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 shortly after taking the helm of the ANC. Mbeki was also “recalled” by the party, ending a nine-year rule marked by economic growth but marred by accusations of abuse of power that he denied.
In power since 2009, President Jacob Zuma has been dogged by corruption allegations. Zuma’s presidency has been overshadowed by allegations of corruption which he has always vehemently denied. In 2016, South Africa’s highest court ruled that Zuma had violated the constitution when he failed to repay government money spent on his private home.
Last year the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that he must face 18 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a 1999 arms deal. More recently, Zuma’s links to the wealthy India-born Gupta family, who are alleged to have influenced the government, have caused his popularity to plummet. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny the allegations.
Zuma has been living on borrowed time since Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer once tipped as Mandela’s pick to take over the reins, was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December.
Zuma has resisted increasing pressure to quit since December, when Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as leader of the ANC. It is unclear how Zuma will respond to the formal request to step down, which is expected to be issued later on Tuesday. Earlier, Ramaphosa left the meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee to travel to Zuma’s residence, where he is said to have told the president he would be recalled if he did not step down. He later returned to the ANC conclave.
Zuma has survived other such votes but he is not expected to pull it off again. A confidence vote would be considered a humiliating process for him and the party. South African media are calling President Zuma’s seemingly inevitable exit “Zexit”. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, resigned in 2008, also after a power struggle with his deputy. The deputy in question was Jacob Zuma, who took over the presidency the following year. Zuma cannot legally return to power in any case.
It will be very difficult for him to resist a formal request to resign but he would not be legally obliged to do so and could technically carry on as president despite losing the faith of his party. However, he would then be expected to face a confidence vote in parliament. This has already been scheduled for 22 February.
Jacob Zuma is the most colorful and controversial president South Africa has had since white-minority rule ended in 1994. He has been a politician of nine lives, surviving a series of scandals which would have surely ended anyone else’s career. But Zuma, the man born into poverty who went into exile to fight apartheid before rising to become “the people’s president”, cannot survive forever.
Zuma’s bid for the presidency was written off before he had even really started. In the run-up to the 2009 election, he was simultaneously battling allegations of rape and corruption. He was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend in 2006 – although the fact he told the court he had showered in order to avoid catching HIV would continue to haunt him throughout his presidency. His second – and final – term in office is coming to an end. He is no longer leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). And those charges of corruption – always vehemently denied – appear to be catching up with him. President Zuma, whose poor roots, charisma and strength in adversity partly explain his ability to hold on to power, is set to face his ninth vote of no confidence in parliament – if his own party doesn’t succeed in removing him first.
South African economy is tatters although cricket matches with India are in full swing to make extra money. The rand currency weakened, with traders blaming uncertainty caused by the lack of a clear timetable.
Since becoming president in 2009, Zuma has been dogged by scandal. He is fighting the reinstatement of corruption charges that were dismissed before he became president over a 30 billion-rand (now $2.5 billion) government arms deal arranged in the late 1990s. More recently, the country’s anti-corruption watchdog wrote in a 2016 report that the Gupta family, billionaire friends of Zuma, had used links with the president to win state contracts. The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.
South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Zuma’s nine-year tenure, with banks and mining companies reluctant to invest because of policy uncertainty and rampant corruption.
The party’s national executive was split on precisely when Zuma should step down. The ANC was badly rattled by its performance at the 2016 local elections when it won its lowest share of the vote since coming to power under the late Nelson Mandela in 1994. It wants to project a fresh image for next year’s general election. Having served two terms in office (South African presidents are elected by parliament), On Monday, opposition parties called for an early election to lead this country, must get their mandate from the people of South Africa
Though he has survived several no-confidence motions in the past, now his time is up. Zuma’s entire cabinet would have to step down if a parliamentary vote went through.
South African presidency is not for life time of Zuma who is no more wanted as president and he knows the signals.