The ANC’s national executive committee has decided to “recall” Zuma, 75, during a 13-hour meeting that ended early on Tuesday, according to five people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public.
It marked the failure of efforts to convince Zuma to agree to an amicable transfer of power from his scandal-ridden administration to one headed by party leader Cyril Ramaphosa.
Unless Zuma decides to resign soon, the ANC will have to order its MPs to approve a motion of no confidence in the president. The political impasse has already forced the unprecedented postponement of last week’s scheduled annual State of the Nation Address and may imperil the presentation of the budget on February 21.
The ANC has scheduled a press conference for 14:00 to explain its next move.
“There is nothing good about a leadership limbo in any country,” said Daniel Silke, the director of Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town. “This extreme political uncertainty is the last thing South Africa needs as it tries to claw back some credibility in the minds of investors and the global community.”
The ANC wants Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old former union leader and businessman, to take over as soon as possible before elections next year so he has time to show he can meet his pledges to rebuild a battered economy - the most industrialised in Africa - and clamp down on the graft that critics say marred the Zuma era.
The rand has gained the most against the dollar of the 16 major currencies since his December 18 election as ANC leader. It fluctuated in a narrow range on Tuesday, gaining as much as 0.3% and weakening as much as as 0.5% against the dollar. It was 0.2% stronger at R11.9141 per dollar by 10:34 in Johannesburg, adding to the 1.9% advance in the previous two sessions.
The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family, who are in business with one of his sons, to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Zuma’s future, both within the ANC and as a private citizen, is in play, according to Abdul Waheed Patel, the managing director of Cape Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting.
“Everything is going to be dependent on how he exits,” he said by phone. “The possibility that he will be removed through a parliamentary motion looks more likely now than it did a few hours ago. It’s not looking like he will resign voluntarily.”
South Africa’s opposition parties want the National Assembly to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma this week and for parliament to be dissolved immediately after that ahead of an early election.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-biggest party, last month proposed the no-confidence motion that’s currently due to be debated on February 22, and plans to go to court if it isn’t brought forward.
Under Zuma, economic growth has averaged just 1.6% a year, undermined partly by a series of policy missteps and inappropriate appointments that rocked investor and business confidence.
Disgruntlement with his rule caused support for the ANC to fall in 2016 municipal elections and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria.
Zuma’s second and final term was due to end around mid-2019. He survived two previous bids to topple him in the ANC’s NEC since November 2016, but the balance of power in the panel shifted after Ramaphosa won the party presidency.
“This leadership impasse is debilitating for the country,” Silke said. “It is depressing for its citizens, it is damaging for the ruling party and in particular it is damaging for the incoming leader Ramaphosa because of his inability to deliver a killer blow.”
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