JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will hold an urgent meeting on Monday to discuss President Jacob Zuma’s future as head of state after overnight talks with the scandal-plagued 75-year-old leader failed to secure his departure.
Zuma, in power since 2009, has faced growing pressure to resign as president since he was replaced as leader of the ANC in December by Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s deputy president.
ANC officials said the party had summoned its National Working Committee (NWC) to meet at 1200 GMT at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters in downtown Johannesburg.
The NWC would have to call a meeting of the National Executive Committee, its top decision-making body, if the party wanted to vote on ousting the president.
Zuma, whose presidency has been tainted by corruption scandals and economic decline, has been deserted by prominent allies since Ramaphosa became leader of the only party to govern South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
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.
In a sign of Zuma digging in, a group of supporters called Black First Land First said they would march to Luthuli House on Monday. In response, a pro-Ramaphosa faction of the ANC said it would “defend” the building, raising the prospect of clashes between different camps of the ANC.
The ANC said it respected the right of citizens to protest in a disciplined and peaceful manner.
“We trust those who protest today will do so in a manner that does not undermine the genuineness … of their cause,” it said in a statement on Monday.
RAMAPHOSA SEEKS ZUMA EXIT
The rand, which has tended to strengthen on signs that Zuma could step down before his second term as president ends next year, was slightly firmer on Monday.
Ramaphosa, 65, is in a strong position to become the next president and has been lobbying for Zuma’s removal.
Opposition parties and some in the ANC want Zuma to go before his state of the nation address to parliament, scheduled for Thursday.
Asked on Monday about the ongoing talks surrounding Zuma, ANC spokeswoman Khusela Diko said: “There is no crisis within the ANC, we are used to robust discussions.”
Zuma has not said in public whether he will step down voluntarily. But he faces a new confidence-vote in parliament against his leadership on Feb. 22 filed by the opposition far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF).
The EFF has asked the speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, to allow a secret ballot for the no-confidence vote, a decision which would increase the chances of Zuma losing the vote.
Unlike in August when Zuma survived a no-confidence vote, a significant portion of the ANC now wants him gone. If he lost the vote, his entire cabinet would have to step down.
Zuma will meet Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at 1200 GMT on Monday at the king’s residence in Ulundi in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, said Prince Thulani Zulu, a spokesman for the Zulu royal household.
The spokesman declined to speculate on whether the king, a key ally of Zuma, who is also a Zulu, would add his voice to those urging the president to step down.
Zwelithini is an influential traditional head of South Africa’s biggest ethnic group, with around 10 million first-language Zulu speakers out of a total population of around 55 million, but he holds no role in government.