JOHANNESBURG – South African President Jacob Zuma must leave office promptly so that the country can move toward political stability and economic recovery, the ruling party said Tuesday, finally disowning a leader who has been discredited by corruption scandals.
The national executive committee of the African National Congress decided to “recall” Zuma at a marathon meeting that ended overnight, said Ace Magashule, the party’s secretary-general.
Zuma had agreed to resign and wanted to stay in office for several more months, but Magashule said the party committee rejected that proposal because it wanted to deal speedily with the uncertainty over the leadership turmoil in one of Africa’s largest economies.
The African National Congress looks forward to an “amicable solution” and “it’s obvious” that the party wants Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma, Magashule said.
He added that he expects Zuma to respond on Wednesday to the ruling party’s decision.
“I don’t know what will happen, but let’s leave it to President Jacob Zuma,” Magashule said.
If Zuma refuses his party’s instruction, the matter could go to parliament for a vote on a motion of no confidence that could bolster the political opposition’s standing as a key engine of the president’s downfall.
An opposition-backed motion of no confidence has been scheduled for Feb. 22, but its sponsors want the vote to be moved up to this week. Zuma has survived similar motions in the past, but many ruling party members now see him as a political liability ahead of 2019 elections and likely would vote against him.
The lack of a resolution to the country’s political limbo in the past week had indicated that the president was rejecting the demands of many former supporters that he step down immediately.
The impasse highlighted the disarray within the party that was the main movement against white minority rule and has led South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. The ANC once commanded moral stature as the party of Nelson Mandela, but corruption scandals linked to Zuma, who denies wrongdoing, have cut into its popularity.
Zuma, who took office in 2009 and is in his second five-year term, had asked for state security for his family and payment of legal fees, said South African media, citing unidentified ANC sources.
Ramaphosa, Zuma’s expected successor and the ANC’s new leader, had held private talks with the president on a power transition, angering opposition parties who described the process as an affront to South African democracy. Last week, Ramaphosa promised a “speedy resolution” to the discussions, but the standoff raised questions about the political clout of the man poised to lead the country.
Among the scandals around the president, South Africa’s top court has ruled that Zuma violated the constitution following an investigation of multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home using state money. A judicial commission is about to start a probe of alleged looting of state enterprises by Zuma’s associates, and prosecutors are expected to announce soon whether they will reinstate corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago.