South Africa’s ruling African National Congress on Tuesday ordered President Jacob Zuma to resign, calling an end to his scandal-hit rule and paving the way for Cyril Ramaphosa, the party leader, to take power.
The party said Mr Zuma, who has resisted days of pressure to step aside, asked to remain in office for between three and six months, but ANC leaders rebuffed him due to the urgency of the need to restore the integrity of public institutions.
Ace Magashule, ANC secretary-general, suggested the party would now consider removing Mr Zuma through a no-confidence vote in parliament, a decision that risks exacerbating the power struggle in the ANC.
“All necessary parliamentary processes that arise from this decision will now ensue,” he said, adding that the ANC had not yet officially proposed a no-confidence motion. Mr Magashule said Mr Zuma was being given “time and space to respond. We haven’t given him a deadline.”
The national executive committee took the decision to sack Mr Zuma after a marathon 13-hour meeting into the early hours of Tuesday that capped weeks of intrigue and political paralysis as the president defied pressure from party leaders to stand aside. His nine years in office have been plagued by corruption scandals, a stagnating economy and sliding support for the ANC.
The party has been in the throes of a power struggle since Mr Ramaphosa, the deputy president, defeated Mr Zuma’s preferred candidate to be elected ANC leader in December. Many in the party are desperate for Mr Ramaphosa to take over immediately to allow him to begin the task of reviving Africa’s most industrialised economy, tackling endemic graft and boosting the fortunes of the ANC ahead of general elections next year.
Mr Zuma, who has not been seen in public since last week, is scheduled to hold a press briefing on Wednesday.
Business and civil society groups said the firing by the ANC was long overdue. Bonang Mohale, the head of Business Leadership South Africa, an industry representative body, said Mr Zuma’s refusal to resign showed he was “driven by nothing more than avarice, myopia and unbridled self-interest”. He added that the ANC had to quickly end “the two-week chaos” that had gripped the country.
But Mr Magashule, an ally of the president, said Mr Zuma would be given “time and space to respond” as senior ranks of the ANC appeared divided on their next steps if he refuses to meet its demand.
No party member has resisted an order to quit a government post from the 80-plus members of the NEC. Thabo Mbeki resigned as president in 2008 after being told to step down by the NEC months after he lost a party leadership battle to Mr Zuma.
However, Mr Zuma, a ruthless political survivor and former ANC intelligence chief, could still refuse to step aside because the NEC’s decisions are not legally binding. That would force the ANC to remove him through parliament, which elects the president.
“I hope that the man I respect called Mr Zuma will do the right thing and resign with dignity,” Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s chair, told a party rally on Tuesday. “If he does not, he will have to face the vultures on his own in parliament.”
Parliament said on Tuesday it had called a meeting of chief whips from across parties for Wednesday. A vote would need a simple majority, or 201 votes, to succeed, but it would be an embarrassing spectacle for the party as it attempts to avoid damaging splits.
“The ANC would be the major loser if the matter goes to a no-confidence vote . . . it will smack of deep division, a party unable to exert internal discipline and will reflect poorly on Ramaphosa’s ability to strike a deal directly with Zuma,” said Daniel Silke, director of the Political Futures consultancy.
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Mr Zuma’s removal would automatically make Mr Ramaphosa acting-president for up to 30 days. A parliamentary vote to confirm him as head of state would be assured by the ANC’s majority in the assembly.
Mr Ramaphosa’s elevation to the country’s top job would fulfil a decades-long ambition of the former union leader. A veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, the 65-year-old was Nelson Mandela’s preferred choice to succeed him in the 1990s. But the ANC leadership chose Mr Mbeki, causing Mr Ramaphosa to leave mainstream politics to carve out a business career.
After becoming one of the country’s richest black businessmen, he returned to politics in 2012 when he became Mr Zuma’s deputy in the ANC. Two years later, he took over as state deputy president, but many in the party questioned whether he had the grass roots support and the stomach for the fight that would be required to take the top job.
The ANC would be the major loser if the matter goes to a no-confidence vote . . . it will smack of deep division, a party unable to exert internal discipline and will reflect poorly on Ramaphosa’s ability to strike a deal directly with ZumaDaniel Silke, director of the Political Futures consultancy
He enjoys the support of corporate South Africa and has in recent months adopted increasingly tough rhetoric against state graft. But he would face huge challenges presiding over a party blighted by factionalism and a nation increasingly frustrated by rampant poverty, high levels of unemployment and yawning inequalities.
An important early test would be whether the government pursues corruption investigations against senior ANC leaders implicated in scandals, including Mr Zuma.
The 75-year-old’s fear of eventual prosecution was believed to be one of the reasons he has resisted pressure to step down.
It is alleged that under his watch, the Gupta business family used its relationship with the president and his children to influence political appointments and win state contracts.
The Guptas, who set up a business empire stretching from mining to IT after moving to South Africa from India in the 1990s, and Mr Zuma have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Zuma also has 783 counts of alleged fraud and corruption that relate to a 1990s arms deal hanging over him.