South Africa

South African deputy president poised to replace Zuma in ‘speedy resolution’ to crisis

Scandal-hit President Jacob Zuma is likely to be ousted soon following day-long talks with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 2:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 9:21pm

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) had been preparing to fire Jacob Zuma as head of state this week, according to leaked comments from a top party official, but a negotiated exit now looks more likely.

The ANC had scheduled a meeting on Wednesday evening of its National Executive Committee (NEC), which has the authority to fire Zuma, but cancelled it after “constructive” talks between new ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa and Zuma.

Ramaphosa said on Wednesday he was holding direct talks with Zuma over a transition of power and he hoped to conclude their discussions “in coming days”.

But leaked comments from senior ANC official Paul Mashatile suggested that at the weekend Zuma was digging in. Mashatile was part of a group of the ANC’s top six most powerful officials who met Zuma late on Sunday at his official residence in Pretoria in a bid to convince him to resign.

“Zuma basically said to us: ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m not convinced by you guys so I’m not going to resign,’” Mashatile told investors at a mining conference in Cape Town on Tuesday. His comments emerged in a recording leaked to several domestic media outlets late on Wednesday.

“Our view is that if the president doesn’t want to resign, for whatever reason, we have a party to run that is going to be very soon in the election campaign,” Mashatile said. “We want to ensure that we are not involved in motions of no-confidence, or impeachment that will affect our party.”

Mashatile was not immediately available for comment and an ANC spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Also on Wednesday, Ramaphosa acknowledged “a lot of speculation and anxiety” about the status of the president.

But Ramaphosa said he and Zuma, beset by corruption allegations, would finish their discussions and report in the coming days to the ruling African National Congress party and the population of one of Africa’s biggest economies.

“This is a challenging time for our country,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure.

“The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division.”

Zuma’s office described a social media report that Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to visit the country this week as “fake” news. It also denied allegations by opponents that he was preparing to fire Ramaphosa.

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The speaker of parliament has said Zuma, who is under intense pressure to resign, will not give the state of the nation address in parliament that had been set for Thursday.

More information about Zuma’s status as president will be available once “all pertinent matters” have been finalised, said Ramaphosa, who took over from his boss as party leader in December and has since delivered strong anti-corruption messages.

Many former supporters who have turned against Zuma have worried that he is digging in or at least trying to make a deal, possibly including immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his resignation.

The presidency’s office tweeted a photo of Zuma and Ramaphosa laughing together at a Cabinet meeting, in an apparent effort to project an image of close collaboration between the two leaders.

It also continued to announce Zuma’s upcoming official schedule, saying the president would preside on Saturday over an awards ceremony in Cape Town for South Africans who have promoted the country’s international image.

South Africa holds elections next year and ANC leaders worry Zuma’s tenure, which has included corruption scandals and an economic slowdown, could help it lose a majority it has held since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Zuma took power in 2009 but has been in a weakened position since Ramaphosa replaced him as ANC leader in December.

Zuma has survived several no-confidence votes in parliament but faces another on February 22 filed by the far-left opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters.

ANC officials say they want Zuma to resign rather than be forced out by a vote of the ANC’s executive committee, or a parliamentary no-confidence vote, either of which could expose divisions in the party.

Additional reporting by Associated Press