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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Zuma presidency close to its end as deal to stand down is finalised

Top leadership of South Africa's ruling party meet to decide how, not if, veteran leader will go

A torn African National Congress (ANC) election poster shows the face of South African president Jacob Zuma, who is under pressure from his party to step down after being replaced as ANC chief in December 2017. Kim Ludbrook / EPA
A torn African National Congress (ANC) election poster shows the face of South African president Jacob Zuma, who is under pressure from his party to step down after being replaced as ANC chief in December 2017. Kim Ludbrook / EPA

President Jacob Zuma has agreed to step down, state media reported on Monday as the ruling party's top leadership held a tense meeting in Pretoria.

The government-funded SABC news service quoted sources at the meeting as saying that a deal had been struck for Mr Zuma to leave office.

Standing outside the meeting venue, SABC correspondent Tshepo Ikaneng cited sources inside the presidency as saying Mr Zuma had agreed to stand aside after weeks of mounting pressure for him to quit. No time frame was given.

The brief live broadcast gave no further details. Mr Zuma's presence at the meeting was also unconfirmed.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) had called on its senior decision-making body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), to hold a special meeting to decide how, not if, Mr Zuma was to be replaced. His deputy, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, elected as ANC head in December, is expected to replace him.

Mr Zuma's position has grown increasingly tenuous since the December election, with many in the ANC wanting him gone to allow Mr Ramaphosa to rebuild the party's shattered image ahead of a general election next year.

"The NEC will meet to discuss this very matter," Mr Ramaphosa had told cheering crowds in Cape Town on Sunday. "And because our people want this matter to be finalised, the NEC will be doing exactly that. We know you want this matter to be finalised. We know you want closure on this matter."

A series of financial scandals connecting Mr Zuma and the Gupta brothers, three Indian-born businessmen who moved to South Africa in the 1990s, have badly hurt the ANC's standing over the past few years. The party received a drubbing in municipal elections in 2016, with most of the country's important cities falling to the opposition.

Mr Ramaphosa has remained free of corruption scandals and his party hopes he can revive its reputation as the organisation once led by Nelson Mandela and restore its standing among voters.

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In recent weeks, attempts by senior party members to convince Mr Zuma to leave have come to nothing. Rumours and leaks in local news publications suggest Mr Zuma is demanding guarantees that he will not be prosecuted on corruption charges, and that his security detail be maintained at its current level.

Opposition leaders have opposed any kind of amnesty deal to hasten Mr Zuma's exit after nine years in office. "Jacob Zuma must face the full consequences of his actions," said the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane. "And if he wants extra protection there is no place as secure as a maximum-security prison."

Now, with previous talks having come to nothing, party officials are getting tough – opening the way to firing Mr Zuma. The NEC is the ANC's highest decision-making body consisting of the party's top 86 members. It is unclear when a decision will be announced but it is not uncommon for ANC executive meetings to go on into the early hours of the morning.

The NEC can issue a recall – essentially a demand that Mr Zuma step down. Should he decline the NEC can then recommend a vote of no-confidence in parliament to unseat the president.

Technically Mr Zuma can stay in office until national elections next year. However, should he be fired from his party before his term is up, he risks losing perks such as his pension and security detail.

Regardless, it is now a matter of time before Mr Zuma goes. "Any further delay in his removal is utterly unacceptable," said Tony Ehrenreich, deputy leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country's largest union body and an alliance partner of the ANC.

"If he does not leave willingly, we will call for mass action and take to the streets to remove him."