06 Feb 2018 - 21:56
South Africa's ANC to decide "matter of serious concern" in Zuma showdown on Wednesday
By James Macharia / Reuters
JOHANNESBURG: African National Congress leaders weighing the future of South Africa's Jacob Zuma will decide a "matter of serious concern" on Wednesday, a senior official said, heralding what could be a bid to unseat a president beset by corruption allegations.
Separately, the speaker of parliament said the president's state of the nation address, which had been scheduled for Thursday, would be postponed, adding to pressure on Zuma.
Zuma, whose presidency has been marred by graft scandals and economic decline, has been in a weakened position since he was replaced as leader of the ANC by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in December.
The ANC has called a special meeting of its decision-making National Executive Committee (NEC) for Wednesday in Cape Town, at which analysts have said some members of the party could call for Zuma to resign.
Facing a no-confidence motion in parliament set for Feb. 22, Zuma has survived several attempts to oust him in the past. But this time around a significant part of the ANC wants him to step down well before his second term ends mid next year.
ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte told a news conference that senior party officials would take a proposal to the NEC for discussion on Wednesday, but she declined to say what it was.
She added that on Wednesday the NEC "will be discussing a matter of serious concern to all of us within the ANC, and of course a matter of great public interest to the people of South Africa."
The proposal was likely to be on Zuma's future, analysts said.
"A vote of no-confidence is not desirable, under any circumstances. Our most important consideration is that we don't believe South Africa should wish for us to embarrass the president of the republic, in any way whatsoever," Duarte said.
"We will tell you exactly what the NEC has decided post our meeting."
The speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, postponed Zuma's speech due on Thursday. She said she met Zuma, who had already been writing to parliament to ask for his address to be put off.
"A new date for the state of the nation address will be announced very soon," Mbete said.
The opposition parties had demanded that the speech be postponed until Zuma was removed from the leadership.
The rand, which has tended to strengthen on signs that Zuma could step down before his second term as president ends next year, was firmer on Tuesday.
"This uncertainty and unhealthy competition between the ‘two centres of power’ was not unexpected or a sudden surprise yet there was no plan to deal with it given that Mr Zuma was not going to go quietly and that this would create problems," said analyst Gary van Staden at NKC African Economics.
The ANC's top six most powerful officials met Zuma late on Sunday at his official residence in Pretoria but there was no announcement of the outcome. Analysts said the senior officials had met Zuma to ask him to step down.
Duarte and party secretary-general and fellow top-six member Ace Magashule have backed Zuma.
Some within the ANC and the opposition have said the Gupta family, friends of Zuma, have used their links with the president to win work with the state. The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.
ZUMA CHAIRS CABINET MEETINGS
Zuma meanwhile chaired routine meetings on Tuesday and was not holding a "special cabinet meeting" as reported in local media, his spokesman said.
Bongani Ngqulunga said a full cabinet meeting was scheduled for Feb. 14, dismissing speculation in domestic media the embattled president had called a meeting to discuss his future with his cabinet colleagues.
In a statement, the presidency denied claims by the South African Communist Party, a key ally of the ruling party, that Zuma was preparing to fire Ramaphosa as deputy president and replace him with ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
"The allegations are completely baseless," Ngqulunga said in a statement.
The influential Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement "time is of the essence - Zuma must go". Leader of the official opposition and head of the Democratic Alliance party Mmusi Maimane said in a statement: "We need a new beginning."
On Monday, Zuma met Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, the influential traditional head of South Africa's biggest ethnic group in the president's home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
A Zulu royal house insider told the BusinessDay newspaper that Zuma had refused a request from the Zulu king to resign.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Richard Balmforth)