Time may be running out for South African President Jacob Zuma as ruling party postpones State of the Nation speech
The African National Congress, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela won the post-apartheid 1994 election, is divided over whether Zuma should be “recalled” from his position
South Africa on Tuesday postponed its State of the Nation address, the keynote political event of the year, as the ruling ANC party grappled over a battle to unseat President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma, in power since 2009, is fighting for his survival and faces the imminent risk of being ousted from office by his own party after multiple graft scandals.
The African National Congress, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela won the post-apartheid 1994 election, is divided over whether Zuma should be “recalled” from his position.
As president, Zuma had been due to deliver the State of the Nation address to parliament in Cape Town on Thursday.
But the party’s national executive committee, its highest decision-making body, will hold a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss his possible removal.
“We thought that we needed to create room for establishing a much more conducive political atmosphere in parliament,” parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete told reporters. “When we met the president this afternoon, we then learnt that he was already writing to parliament to ask for the postponement. A new date for the state of the nation address will be announced very soon.”
The 80-member ANC committee meeting on Wednesday could “recall” Zuma from office – an instruction he could constitutionally refuse to obey, triggering political chaos.
ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte told reporters that senior party officials had discussed Zuma’s future on Monday.
“It was discussed at a great deal of length. I can say to you that there are different views,” she said.
Many ANC members are pushing for Cyril Ramaphosa, the new head of the party, to replace Zuma, 75, as president immediately. But Zuma loyalists have said that the serving president should complete his second and final term in office, which would end when elections are held next year.
Duarte confirmed that if Zuma resigned, deputy president Ramaphosa would automatically take office.
“What we are hoping for is that the NEC [national executive committee] will emerge with a united view on this matter,” she said.
The power struggle has rocked the ANC, the much-celebrated liberation party that led the fight against white-minority rule but which has since lost much of its public support.
“Jacob Zuma is not just a pushover,” said Xolani Dube, an analyst with the Xubera think-tank in Durban. “He is not someone who respects Ramaphosa because Ramaphosa has not gone through all the rituals to become an ANC president … he was not in prison, he was not in exile.”
Zuma faces several court cases, including the matter of 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power in 2009.
Many graft allegations against him have centred on the wealthy Gupta family, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to choose ministerial appointments.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which promotes the legacy of South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, called on Tuesday for Zuma to be ousted as he had “demonstrated that he is not fit to govern”.
In a damning statement, it said there was “overwhelming evidence that systematic looting by patronage networks linked to President Zuma have betrayed the country Nelson Mandela dreamed of.”
Zuma could leave office either by resigning, through losing a vote of no-confidence in parliament or impeachment proceedings. He could also be “recalled” by the ANC – but a recall is a party process rather than a constitutional order.
“If he doesn’t resign following a recall then it will be a very chaotic situation,” said Ben Payton, analyst for the London-based Maplecroft consultancy. “Ramaphosa will look weak if he can’t get Zuma out now. Ramaphosa won’t be able to back down now without losing face.”
Ramaphosa, 65, is a former trade unionist who led talks to end apartheid rule in the early 1990s and then became a multimillionaire businessman before returning to politics.