February 13, 2018

Deadline for Zuma

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) held a marathon 13-hour meeting to discuss the fate of the controversial President Jacob Zuma. According to news reports, the party is expected to order the embattled President to step aside so party leader Cyril Ramaphosa could take his place.

He has been given 48 hours to step down before the party acts.

Background

The African National Congress (ANC) is the Republic of South Africa's governing political party. It has been the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa on the national level, beginning with the election of Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election.

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma became the President after his party, African National Congress (ANC) claimed victory in the 2009 general election. He was re-elected in 2014. In 2005, he was charged with more than 700 counts of corruption over a multi-billion dollar arms deal that took place when he was Deputy President in the 90s. The charges were dropped in 2009, however, Zuma is still fighting their reinstatement. In March 2016, his credibility was hit again when the highest court in South Africa ruled that he had violated the constitution by using government money to renovate his home in Nkandla. Zuma apologized to the public and vowed to repay the money.

Despite the controversies, Zuma has been able to survive multiple no-confidence votes. However, his tenure has been uncertain since December 2017. He was forced out of the leadership position at ANC and Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as the leader of the ANC. Zuma remained within the party and he remained President as well but calls asking for his resignation began to grow within the ANC.

Cyril Ramaphosa is a venerable and well-respected statesman both within the Africa National Congress (ANC) and South Africa. He has served as deputy president under Jacob Zuma since 2014. He has taken an outspoken stance against corruption. He is considered to be one of the richest businessmen in South Africa and is well liked in the community as well.

Analysis

On February 2018, the party leadership summoned Zuma requesting him to stand from the Presidency. The party wanted him to resign before the national address that was scheduled for later in the month. However, the embattled leader remained defiant and refused to heed to the requests.

On February 11th, Ramaphosa noted that the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) would meet to discuss the presidential transition of power. The leader admitted that there had been “disunity and discord” over this issue. The meeting that took place lasted 13 hours and reports emerged that the party had decided to order (rather than request) Zuma to step aside from the Presidency. Ramaphosa also visited Zuma in the middle of the night to discuss matters at hand. He reportedly told the President that he will be recalled if he did not respect party wishes.

No party member has resisted an order by the NEC to leave a government post. In 2008, Thabo Mbeki had also been asked to resign and he did so after being ordered. At that time, he had lost the elections to party leadership to Jacob Zuma.

If Zuma still refuses to pay heed to ANC’s orders, then the matter could escalate into yet another no-confidence vote. This is a situation that ANC would want to avoid. “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.

Assessment

Our assessment is that a no-confidence vote will not only harm Zuma’s legacy, but will also prolong the political crisis in the country. ANC would want to avoid a vote as it might reflect poorly on Ramaphosa’s leadership and might expose internal differences within the party to the larger public. Perhaps, this is Zuma’s end game. However, it has become increasingly clear that his days are numbered and Ramaphosa will become the new President.

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