February 06, 2018
Pressure is mounting on South African president to resign, as ANC committee prepares to meet to decide next step
Major Jacob Zuma speech postponed as departure looms
Jacob Zuma’s annual state of the nation address, which he was due to deliver on Thursday, has been postponed, suggesting the embattled South African president is close to leaving office.
The unprecedented measure underlines the crisis within the ruling African National Congress as the party tries to manage an increasingly chaotic transfer of power from the incumbent president to his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Jacob Zuma’s annual state of the nation address, which he was due to deliver on Thursday, has been postponed, suggesting the embattled South African president is close to leaving office.
The unprecedented measure underlines the crisis within the ruling African National Congress as the party tries to manage an increasingly chaotic transfer of power from the incumbent president to his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We decided to approach [President Jacob Zuma] to postpone the state of the nation address ... We need to create room for establishing a much more conducive atmosphere in parliament,” Baleka Mbete, the national assembly speaker, told reporters outside parliament in Cape Town. Mbete did not give a new date for the speech.
Senior ANC leaders met Zuma over the weekend to ask him to step down. Local media reported that the 75-year-old president, who is battling corruption allegations, refused.
The ANC’s national executive committee its top decision making body, will meet on Wednesday to consider its next step.
“[The] postponement .... indicates just how much power has shifted from President Zuma as he can no longer - as constitutional head-of-state - present his opening address,” Daniel Silke, a local commentator, wrote on Twitter. “While Zuma might cling to power for another few days, he is now unable to address his own parliament. It’s a messy transition that needs a decisive resolution.”
One possibility is that Zuma will be ordered to resign by the NEC, though this may raise significant constitutional issues. According to ANC rules, all members – even elected officials – fulfil their functions according to the will of the party.
His premature departure – Zuma’s second five-year term is due to expire next year – would consolidate the power of Ramaphosa, who was elected leader of the ANC in December and is the country’s deputy president.
Supporters of Ramaphosa, a multimillionaire businessman who is seen as the standard bearer of the reformist wing of the party, say it is essential that Zuma is sidelined as early as possible to allow the ANC to regroup before campaigning starts in earnest for elections in 2019.
Zuma had led the ANC since 2007 and has been South Africa’s president since 2009. His tenure in both posts has been marred by a series of corruption scandals that have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994.
The party’s NEC is split between supporters of Ramaphosa and Zuma. Backers and opponents of the president briefly clashed outside the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg on Monday morning.
In 2008 Thabo Mbeki stood down as president a year before the end of his term after the ruling party formally requested his resignation over allegations he misused his power. His deputy then took power, until Zuma led the party to another victory in elections in 2009 and became president.
Susan Booysen, professor of politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, said any delay would damage the ANC.
“The ANC is trying to project this image of a party with a new drive and momentum but this is such a mess-up. Any recent gains are not irreversible even if the inexorable overall direction of travel is clear and Zuma has his back to the wall,” Booysen said.
As president, Ramaphosa would have to balance the need to reassure foreign investors and local businesses against the intense popular demand for dramatic measures to address South Africa’s deep problems.
The 68-year-old former trade union leader has said South Africa is coming out of a “period of uncertainty, a period of darkness, and getting into a new phase”.
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