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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Political crisis grips South Africa as Zuma holds on amid calls for change

The people of South Africa deserve a speedy and peaceful resolution to the turmoil

President of South Africa Jacob Zuma is facing growing calls for his resignation. Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President of South Africa Jacob Zuma is facing growing calls for his resignation. Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

In September 2008, nine months prior to his term’s end, South African President Thabo Mbeki was removed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The decision to “recall” the President, made by the ANC’s national executive, followed a power struggle between Mr Mbeki and his bitter rival, ANC leader Jacob Zuma. Less than two decades after the end of apartheid, onlookers feared the move would plunge South Africa into chaos.

Today it is Mr Zuma who is under pressure to step down before his presidential term ends next year. Unlike Mr Mbeki, he has refused to obey the ANC leadership and step down gracefully. A meeting of the national executive tomorrow will discuss the “management of the transition”, while Mr Zuma's state of the nation address, scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed. Waiting in the wings is ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa, a party veteran elected in December on an anti-corruption platform.

South Africa has made extraordinary progress since apartheid, which this lingering crisis threatens to derail; its people deserve a speedy and peaceful resolution. For many South Africans, Mr Zuma has become an emblem of economic decay. There are 787 corruption charges levelled against the President, who has survived six votes of no-confidence during his beleaguered rule. He will face another on February 22. Accusations of “state capture” have intensified after journalists shed light on the political influence of the powerful Gupta family. Mr Zuma’s resignation may be dependent on promises of clemency.

Last year, the country’s debt rating was downgraded to junk status. Unemployment has hit 28 per cent, up five percentage points since Mr Zuma’s inauguration. With poor governance, Cape Town is set to run out of water in a matter of weeks. The South African rand rallied following the election of Mr Ramaphosa. Seen as a reformer and concerned about the ANC losing ground, as witnessed in the 2016 local elections, he hopes to improve the fate of the country. For now, a storm is brewing in the rainbow nation. Like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Mr Zuma fought for his country’s future, spending years in prison during apartheid. And as Mr Mugabe proved, warriors don’t easily fall.