6 February 2018

Africa: South Africa Postpones State of Nation Address Amid Possible Zuma Recall

Photo: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ministers and their deputies attend Cabinet committee meetings in Cape Town on February 7.

President Jacob Zuma was due to lay out the national agenda and the speech's postponement is a major embarrassment. Many members of his ANC party want recently-elected leader Cyril Ramaphosa to be president.

South Africa on Tuesday postponed its state of the nation address that was due to be delivered by President Jacob Zuma in two days' time amid concerns lawmakers would disrupt the speech.

The move reflects Zuma's weakened position as pressure for him to resign over a series of scandals increases.

What ANC officials have said

The decision to reschedule the speech comes following a meeting of six top African National Congress (ANC) officials on Sunday and before South Africa's National Executive Committee (NEC) -- the only body with the power to "recall" the president -- is due to meet on Wednesday.

Speaker of the Parliament Baleka Mbete said that parliament had "looked realistically at developments that had taken place in the past week ... and come to the conclusion that there is little likelihood of an uneventful joint sitting of parliament."

"What we're hoping for is that the NEC will emerge with a united view on this matter," ANC deputy secretary-general Jesse Duarte told reporters.

High-ranking ANC official Thandi Modise said, "There is no prospect of a productive SONA (state of the nation address)...Insisting on SONA for Thursday would serve no purpose."

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthemba welcomed the decision saying: "It is in the best interest of our country."

'Different views' on Zuma

Opposition parties have said Zuma no longer has the right to address the nation and have called for a vote of no confidence in parliament on February 22. However, the ANC seem to want to deal with the matter themselves through the NEC.

"[Zuma's future] was discussed at a great deal of length. I can say to you that there are different views," Duarte told reporters.

Many ANC members want Cyril Ramaphosa, the new head of the party who was voted in in December, to replace 75-year-old Zuma as president immediately.

'No one will contradict' NEC decision

Duarte said that that if Zuma resigned, Deputy President Ramaphosa would automatically take office.

"Once the NEC has made a decision, no one will contradict that decision," Duarte said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said that Zuma "must go, sooner rather than later."

"He must go because he has demonstrated that he is not fit to govern. We call on the state to hold him accountable for his actions," the statement said. "Some things cannot be pardoned," it continued.

Zuma's time as president has been plagued by corruption scandals, economic slowdown and growing anger at the once-omnipotent party.

In 2008, former South African President Thabo Mbeki tendered his resignation after being recalled by the NEC.

(AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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