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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 May 2018

South Africa's ANC finally tells Zuma to go

The president had previously resisted efforts in recent weeks to negotiate his exit amid allegations of corruption

In this photo taken on March 4, 2010 South African president Jacob Zuma arrives for a press conference at Wembley Stadium, in London. Carl Court / AFP
In this photo taken on March 4, 2010 South African president Jacob Zuma arrives for a press conference at Wembley Stadium, in London. Carl Court / AFP

The party of embattled South African president Jacob Zuma has finally told him to go after weeks of uncertainty.

After a marathon 13-hour meeting that began on Monday and continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress sent Mr Zuma an official recall notice — essentially asking him to step down with immediate effect.

ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule broke the news to a packed news conference at the party's headquarters in Johannesburg on Tuesday, saying: "The NEC decided as follows: to recall comrade Jacob Zuma in accordance with the ANC constitution."

The president had previously resisted efforts in recent weeks to negotiate his exit amid allegations of corruption.

But, given public "anxiety" over the economy, among other issues, Mr Magashule said the NEC felt it was now time for Mr Zuma to step aside and allow the party's recently elected leader, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, to take over the presidency.

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Mr Magashule said Mr Zuma had yet to agree, but that discussions with the president thus far were "amicable".

"We are expecting the president to respond tomorrow (Wednesday). There's no deadline; tomorrow the president will respond."

He did not specify what the party's next step would be should Mr Zuma insist on staying put but said a key demand of the president's — that he be allowed to see out at least the next three months — had been rejected by the NEC.

Should Mr Zuma fail to heed the ANC's directive, the next step would be for the party to call for a vote of no confidence in parliament, or outright impeachment. Neither of these appeared to yet be in play for the ANC, although the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party has already submitted a motion for a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

Mr Zuma has every incentive to hang on as long as possible. Once he resigns, he faces almost certain prosecution on corruption charges, including some that pre-date his presidency. While in office he oversaw the appointment of senior law and order officials who kept these charges on ice.

His term has also been linked to a patronage network that has at its centre a family of Indian-born businessmen, the Gupta brothers. Together with Mr Zuma's son Duduzane, the Guptas grew their influence over state-owned corporations such as the local electricity authority Eskom.

Extensive media leaks over the past few years reveal a paper trail connecting the Guptas — who have since relocated to Dubai — and lucrative state projects. The apex of these is a plan to purchase around US$100 billion in nuclear plants from Russia.

Mr Zuma and has backers are under pressure to ensure the nuclear deal signed before he leaves office, thus ensuring the financial legacy of himself and his closest supporters.

"Zuma's tactics are quite clear: he can't be in a worse position than he is now — his future is bleak," said Dirk de Vos, who runs a Cape Town-based advisory firm. "So he has to shake the tree. As budget day draws closer, the ANC will be ever more desperate. That is why decisive action is needed now."

Optimism over Mr Zuma's departure and the possible economic reforms Mr Ramaphosa may introduce have played well on international markets. The rand has gained around 20 per cent since mid-November last year, with most of these gains achieved after Mr Ramaphosa in December won the ANC's nomination to replace Mr Zuma.

"The rand has always been volatile and that is one of the reasons why traders like it — they make and lose money off volatility," Mr de Vos said.