Johannesburg (AFP) – South Africa’s ruling party confirmed Monday that discussions were underway on President Jacob Zuma’s departure from office, possibly signalling the coming end to his scandal-tainted nine-year reign.
Zuma has been under growing pressure to resign since he was replaced as head of the African National Congress (ANC) in December by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
The party executive “discussed this matter… there will be interaction between officials, President Zuma and (party) president Ramaphosa,” ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule told reporters.
“There are no timelines… we don’t do things that way, we engage, we discuss,” Magashule added, saying no final decision had been made on Zuma’s departure.
Zuma’s presidency has been mired in corruption scandals and tarnished by a weakening economy, with the party losing public support ahead of next year’s general election.
Ramaphosa’s backers are keen for him to take over as president immediately and try to revive the economy before the election, when the ANC could lose its dominance for the first time since the end of apartheid.
– ‘Period of renewal’? –
Magashule told a media briefing at party headquarters in Johannesburg that the ANC was “committed to reclaiming moral legitimacy” and had “entered a new period of renewal”, calling for “urgent action in fighting corruption”.
“We focussed on education, land, agriculture, reviving the economy and making sure as we move forward we focus on issues of health,” he said, reporting on an ANC meeting at the weekend.
The party said on Saturday that it would “act decisively” to rebuild its reputation battered by several scandals engulfing Zuma.
Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — lost out to Ramaphosa in the closely-fought race to be party leader.
Zuma, 75, could leave office either by resigning, through losing a motion of no-confidence in parliament or impeachment proceedings.
He could also be recalled by the ANC, forcing him to step down.
Whoever is president on February 8 will deliver the annual state of the nation address to parliament — effectively serving as the most immediate deadline for his departure.
– Corruption cases –
“It is a delicate procedure to engineer an early retirement for President Zuma,” political analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.
“Zuma and the ANC want a dignified exit… it will be fairly soon that he will exit the top job but certain guarantees, if they can be found, will need to be put in place before he does that.”
Zuma faces multiple court cases for alleged corruption, including over 783 payments he received over an arms deal before he came to power.
Silke said Zuma was a “festering wound” for the ANC, and Ramaphosa had to move rapidly to reassure international investors and rating agencies that the party was changing course.
Ramaphosa, 65, on Sunday left South Africa to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He is a former trade unionist who led talks to end white-minority rule in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.
The ANC, which has ruled since 1994 when Nelson Mandela won the first multi-racial election, recorded its worst-ever results in 2016 local polls.
Zuma’s closest allies still hold senior positions in the party, and he could in theory remain president until the 2019 election that marks the end of his second and final term in office.