President offered ultimatum by ruling party following emergency meeting of committee
Jason Burke in Johannesburg
South Africa’s ruling party has given President Jacob Zuma 48 hours to resign, local media has reported.
The decision to tell Zuma to stand down or face being stripped of his office was taken at a specially convened emergency meeting of the highest decision-making body of the African National Congress near Pretoria, the administrative capital, late on Monday evening.
A meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) was called after it became clear over the weekend that nearly five days of talks between Zuma and the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the leadership of the ANC in December, had failed.
After nearly 10 hours of heated debate, Ramaphosa and a key ally of Zuma left the meeting shortly before midnight to drive to the president’s official residence to deliver an ultimatum: stand down or face “recall”, a technical term for the process of ordering an ANC official to leave their post.
Zuma, who had led the ANC since 2007 and has been South Africa’s president since 2009, has come under increasing pressure to resign in recent weeks.
His tumultuous nine years in power have been marred by economic decline and multiple charges of corruption that undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom from apartheid in 1994.
However, the 75-year-old retains significant support inside the party and at a local level in many parts of South Africa. Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author, said: “Zuma is not just a person. He is a system. There are a whole lot of people whose politics fortunes are tied to his.
“We are watching a battle for the soul of the ANC. It’s a referendum on the true balance of power within the party.”
Few expect Zuma to escape the political trap closing around him. “Obviously we have reached the end of the road with the man – we will recall him,” one NEC member told the South African TV network News 24 before the meeting began.
During the afternoon, a presidential spokesman described a flurry of reports that Zuma had agreed to resign as “fake news”.
The opaque and secretive internal ANC debates and negotiations have led to a series of misleading or premature headlines, as well as much dark humour.
Zapiro, a well-known political cartoonist, drew Zuma and Ramaphosa as gunfighters under a banner bearing the legend “High Noon”, corrected to “High Noonish” then “Low Noon” and finally “Whenever”.
Ramaphosa won a bitterly fought internal election to become party president and is to replace Zuma as South African president, in accordance with the constitution. Supporters of the former trade union leader, who is seen as the standard bearer of the ANC’s reformist wing, have pushed for Zuma to be sidelined as quickly as possible to allow the party to regroup before campaigning starts for elections in 2019.
Richard Calland, an expert in South African politics at the University of Cape Town, said the departure of Zuma from office would give Ramaphosa “the chance to rebuild government and the party at the same time”.
If he does decide to resign, Zuma will write a letter to the speaker of parliament. The former ANC security chief and liberation activist is also facing a no-confidence motion in parliament set for 22 February
The opposition leader, Mmusi Maimane, who heads the Democratic Alliance party, said opposition parties would back the motion and demand early elections. “Anyone from the ANC that wants to lead this country must get their mandate from the people of South Africa,” he said.