New ANC leader in ‘constructive’ talks with SA president Jacob Zuma

After Zuma’s refusal to step down, ruling party were expected to recall him from office

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC leader and South Africa’s deputy president: will be the ANC’s candidate for the presidency in the next election. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC leader and South Africa’s deputy president: will be the ANC’s candidate for the presidency in the next election. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa has described talks with South African president Jacob Zuma as “constructive”, as the nation holds its breath to see if the beleaguered Mr Zuma will resign.

News that the recently elected leader of the ruling party had begun face-to-face talks with Mr Zuma emerged late on Tuesday night, shortly after a special sitting of the ANC’s top decision-making body scheduled for Wednesday had been postponed.

The ANC’s 88-strong national executive committee (NEC) had agreed to meet in Cape Town to discuss Mr Zuma’s refusal last weekend to voluntarily step down as South Africa’s president, and had been expected to recall him from office.

In a statement, Mr Ramaphosa said the NEC meeting was suspended to allow himself and Mr Zuma to conclude their talks, and he promised to report back “in the coming days”.

“The discussions [on Tuesday night] were constructive and lay the basis for a speedy resolution of the matter in the interests of the country and its people,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

Mr Zuma’s 10 years at the helm of the ANC ended last December, but his tenure as South Africa’s president officially runs until 2019. This situation has created two centres of power in the country, with tensions between the government and the ruling party’s new leadership team.

All-time low

Mr Zuma’s popularity among the electorate is at an all-time low due to allegations of widespread corruption hanging over him. He is accused of helping the wealthy Gupta business family to illegally secure billions of rand in state contracts.

Both Mr Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.

The ANC also wants him out of the picture to ensure his pending legal woes do not negatively affect the party’s standing with voters in the run-up to next year’s general election.

Mr Ramaphosa, who promised to fight corruption when campaigning to be the ANC’s next leader, will be its candidate in South Africa’s presidential election.

Once seen as untouchable because of his strong grip on the ANC, Mr Zuma’s power in the movement has diminished significantly in the two months since Mr Ramaphosa became its new leader.

Despite this, Mr Zuma still refused to resign last Sunday, reportedly telling the party’s top six officials that “the people still love me”, while also insisting he had done nothing wrong.

As a result of his stance, the ruling party’s NEC looked to have little choice but to officially recall him from office, which would have been a major embarrassment for a man who devoted his life to the former liberation movement.

The details of any deal made to secure Mr Zuma’s exit are eagerly awaited by the South African public, the majority of whom expect Mr Ramaphosa to fight corruption at the highest levels of government and the ANC.

Opposition parties have warned they will take legal action against Mr Ramaphosa if he offers Mr Zuma immunity from criminal prosecution as part of any exit deal.