South Africa: ANC Postpones Decision on Zuma's Fate... For Now

5 February 2018

Cape Town — Talks among leaders of the African National Congress on the future of President Jacob Zuma ended late Monday without any announcement on his fate.

The party's national working committee was convened in emergency session to discuss a meeting which the top leadership held with Zuma on Sunday night. At that meeting Zuma reportedly refused to step down as the country's president to make way for the newly-elected party president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

The party announced after Monday's working committee meeting that the issue of "management of the transition between the 5th and 6th administration of government and pending actions in Parliament" has been referred to a meeting of the party's national executive committee (NEC), to be held on Wednesday.

The NEC will also discuss preparations for the annual state of the nation address on Thursday evening, the speech at the opening of Parliament during which the president outlines the government's legislative agenda for the year. At this stage President Zuma is still scheduled to deliver the address.

South Africa's president is elected by Parliament, and the ANC's practice is to "deploy" members to government posts. Only the NEC can vote to "recall" a leader deployed to serve in government.

The party's reference to the "transition" between two administrations is to the process by which Ramaphosa will take over the reins of government from Zuma. The "pending actions in Parliament" appear to refer to a vote of no confidence in Zuma, to be proposed by opposition parties on February 22, and to planning in Parliament for impeachment proceedings, which has been mandated by the courts.

Zuma still has about 15 months of his term to serve but the ANC is under heavy pressure to replace him earlier. He is mired in allegations of facilitating the misappropriation of State assets by his business friends and polling suggests his continued rule will damage the ANC's election prospects in 2019.

But Ramaphosa has repeatedly said since his election as party leader in December that the transition is a "delicate" matter, and that Zuma should not be "humiliated". When pro-Zuma forces in the party humiliated former President Thabo Mbeki by forcing him out of office in 2008, eight months before the end of his term, it precipitated a split in the party. A newly-formed party went on to take about 10 percent of the vote in the 2009 elections.

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