The handwriting appears to be on the wall for South African President Jacob Zuma. A few days after opposition leaders spoke of a plan to use massive street demonstrations to compel Zuma’s political party to recall him, South African officials said Zuma’s resignation is imminent, possibly coming as soon as Monday.
The opposition even had a Twitter hashtag ready to go for their big anti-Zuma push: #RemoveZumaMarch. The demonstrations would have been timed to coincide with a parliamentary vote of no-confidence on February 22.
“It looks like we have to go to the streets because those with power don’t know how to exercise it‚ no one can defeat the power of the masses. … The masses must take over now and reclaim their country from @MYANC cowards,” tweeted the leader of one opposition party, Julius Malema of the EFF.
Regrettably, he forgot to use the #RemoveZumaMarch hashtag, but he correctly targeted Zuma’s party with his tweet; @MYANC is the Twitter handle of the African National Congress. It is not a very cheerful Twitter stream these days.
The massive street demonstrations envisioned by opposition leaders for February 22 would not have been cheerful, either. “Where are young people and the students of our country?” Malema asked. “Why do you entrust your future in the hands of people who sold us out before? We need the militant and radical youth and students to take to the streets and reclaim our future from these old fraudsters [in the African National Congress].”
By midweek, Zuma’s fortunes seemed to be picking up a bit, with news of “constructive” discussions between the embattled president and the current head of his party, Cyril Ramaphosa. The idea seemed to be keeping Zuma in office for a while longer so a smooth transition to a new president could be arranged. Communications from an ANC official leaked on Friday suggested the party was planning to hold a meeting on Wednesday to sack Zuma but decided to hold off because negotiations between Zuma and Ramaphosa were going so well.
The opposition erupted in rage, accusing Zuma and Ramaphosa of holding South Africa’s fortunes hostage while they negotiated a deal for the benefit of themselves and the ANC. There were calls to move the no-confidence vote up to next week.
“Parliament elects a president, and Parliament removes a president. It is not done behind closed doors at Luthuli House,” declared Mmusi Maimane of the opposition Democratic Alliance party.
“Parliament must have an urgent sitting next week,” Maimane tweeted Thursday. “We are not spectators to the ANC shambles. This is South Africa for us. Either remove Zuma or let’s vote in another president. Let’s move with urgency. It’s for our people.”
Ramaphosa was elected to the chairmanship of the ANC in mid-December amid great hopes for political reform. Currently Deputy President of South Africa, he is widely seen as the likely successor to Zuma after corruption allegations knock the incumbent out of office. The bloom appeared to come off Ramaphosa’s rose as the opposition became convinced he cared more about Zuma’s reputation and the political fortunes of the ANC than South Africa’s fate.
There are especially acute concerns that Zuma is pushing for an exit deal that would immunize him against prosecution. Maimane said his party “flatly rejects any amnesty agreement or special deal for President Zuma,” who he insisted “is not above the law.”
Critics have a point about the South African government coming to a standstill while Ramaphosa and Zuma quibble about just how golden the latter’s parachute will be. Zuma’s official schedule keeps changing as events are canceled, most recently South Africa’s version of the State of the Union address. South Africa’s stock markets tanked after the address was canceled on Tuesday. Officials are saying the address was postponed, rather than canceled outright, and promising to reschedule it soon.
On Friday, former deputy president and current National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete implied that Zuma could either resign or announce his plans for resignation as early as Monday.
“I think that it is the issue that is going to be behind us quite soon,” she said. “I think early in this coming week it should be clearer, after more consultations that will happen over the weekend. Hopefully early in the week we should be utterly able to indicate we’re moving on.”
Mbete said the ANC would hold important meetings over the weekend in advance of a great “coming together” for a momentous announcement on Monday, or possibly at a major ANC rally to be addressed by Ramaphosa on Sunday.
The so-called “top six” leaders of the ANC canceled planned events and cleared their schedules for the weekend meeting, leaving lesser government and party officials scrambling to answer questions in their sudden absence. One of the canceled events would have involved ceremonially laying wreaths upon the grave of Nelson Mandela on February 11, the day he was released from prison. A decision was made to reschedule the event for July 18, Mandela’s 100th birthday.
The Zuma scandals have not yet done much to loosen the ANC’s grip on power. The opposition is still complaining from the sidelines while the serious drama occurs between factions of the ANC. That drama is getting serious indeed, with reports of fistfights breaking out this week between the Zuma and Ramaphosa factions of the party. This increasingly bitter factional struggle is probably more likely than criticism from outside the party to convince the ANC “top six” that Zuma has to go, sooner rather than later.