ANC discuss Zuma’s future as head of state

Public pressure growing on the party to remove the unpopular president from office

Jacob Zuma: South African president is now seen as a liability  by many within the ANC. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty

Jacob Zuma: South African president is now seen as a liability by many within the ANC. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty

 

A senior African National Congress official has confirmed South Africa’s ruling party discussed Jacob Zuma’s future as head of state in recent days, but denied a decision had been taken to remove him as president.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule told a press briefing on Monday that the party’s national executive committee (NEC) had “discussed the Zuma matter”, but said “we have not arrived at any decision”.

An embattled Mr Zuma, who is accused of widespread corruption, stood down as president of the ANC last December after 10 years as the ruling party’s leader. But his term as the country’s president does not end until the middle of 2019.

His successor, South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has made tackling corruption in the ANC and government one of his main priorities. As a result, there has been growing speculation that Mr Zuma could be removed as the nation’s president in the first few months of this year.

If the deeply unpopular Mr Zuma remains at the helm of government in the run up to next year’s general election it could have disastrous consequences for the ANC at the ballot box.

Many analysts suggest such a scenario could see the ANC, which has been in government since the end of apartheid in 1994, lose power to a coalition of opposition parties.

It was reported by the respected Business Day newspaper on Monday that the ANC’s 88-member NEC had unanimously decided to remove Mr Zuma from office during its four-day gather that ended on Sunday.

The newspaper also said it had been agreed that the party’s top six officials, led Mr Ramaphosa, should negotiate with Mr Zuma to manage his exit.

No timelines

But during his briefing Mr Magashule refused to be drawn on the details of the NEC discussion around Mr Zuma and his fate. All he would say was that “it would be left to officials, [South Africa] president Zuma, and [ANC] president Ramaphosa” and “there are no timelines” around what might transpire.

However, it appears Mr Ramaphosa was able to strengthen his hold on the ruling party during its gathering last week, despite a December national elective conference that left it deeply divided.

The party’s national leadership agreed to dissolve its provincial executive committees in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State after courts last year had set aside their election in both provinces.

Both ANC provincial structures were strong Zuma backers in the run-up to the elective conference so removing their leadership teams helps to further reduce Mr Zuma’s influence in the governing party.

In addition, the ANC’s national working committee, which oversees the ruling party’s day-to-day operations, was elected. Mr Ramaphosa’s supporters dominate the 20-strong group, which further consolidates his control of the former liberation movement.