Zuma on the brink as S.Africa police target his allies

South Africa's embattled President Jacob Zuma has rejected a party request that he resign
AFP

Johannesburg (AFP) – South African President Jacob Zuma was under intense pressure to resign Wednesday as police raided the Johannesburg home of a business family accused of overseeing government corruption under his rule.

Zuma was expected to respond to the ruling ANC party’s order for him to resign — hours after police arrived on Wednesday at the Gupta family’s heavily protected house in the upmarket suburb of Saxonwold.

“We have now left the compound. It is an operation that is ongoing related to issues of ‘state capture’,” police spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi told AFP, referring to alleged corruption in state institutions.

Police said three unidentified people had been arrested in investigations into “Vrede Farm” — allegations that millions of dollars of public money meant for poor dairy farmers was syphoned off by the Guptas.

Zuma, who could be ousted in a parliamentary vote of no confidence if he clings to power, has “agreed in principle to resign”, African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Ace Magashule said Tuesday.

The power struggle over Zuma’s departure has put him at loggerheads with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, his expected successor, who is the new head of the ANC.

– Pushing for exit deal? –

“Recalling” the head of state is a party-level instruction that the 75-year-old Zuma is under no constitutional obligation to obey.

The ANC’s national executive committee reached the decision on Tuesday after meeting for 13 hours at a hotel outside Pretoria.

A committee member confirmed to AFP that the president had asked for three more months in office, describing the request as “hogwash”.

Local media reported that scandal-tainted Zuma was pushing for an exit deal that included covering his potentially ruinous legal fees from prolonged court battles against multiple criminal charges.

One case relates to 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power.

Many graft allegations against him have centred on the wealthy Gupta family, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to choose Zuma’s ministerial appointments.

Zuma has admitted he is friends with the three Gupta brothers, originally from India, but denied any wrongdoing.

Susan Booysen, a politics professor at Stellenbosch University, said she expected that Zuma would resign — albeit grudgingly.

“I think that he is an angry person… and he is very reluctant to go. His power could still hover in the background,” Booysen told AFP.

The political wrangle has plunged South Africa — the continent’s most developed economy — into confusion over who is running the country, with last week’s annual State of the Nation address cancelled.

Opposition parties have called for early elections as the ANC’s turbulent transfer of power to Ramaphosa grinds on.

– Decline of Mandela’s party –

Zuma’s presidency has been marred by slow economic growth, continuing racial inequality and record unemployment that have fuelled public frustration.

He was scheduled to stand down next year after serving the maximum two terms since coming to power in 2009.

In 2008, Zuma’s supporters pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki via a similar “recall” manoeuvre over allegations of abuse of power.

In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral result since coming to power in 1994 with Nelson Mandela at the helm as white-minority rule fell.

Ramaphosa, 65, the deputy president, must revive the economy and crack down on what he has admitted is rampant government corruption if he is to boost the party’s tarnished reputation before a tricky election next year.

He is a former trade unionist and Mandela ally who led talks to end apartheid in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.

Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in a vote for the new party leader.

The ANC has insisted there will be no delay to the budget speech, which is due on February 21.

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