South African President Jacob Zuma has defied an ultimatum from the ruling African National Congress to resign within 48 hours, pitching the nation into an unprecedented political crisis.
The decision to ask Zuma to stand down or face being stripped of his office was taken at a specially convened emergency session of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) near Pretoria, the administrative capital, late Monday night, reports the Guardian.
The meeting was called after it became clear over that nearly five days of talks between Zuma, who has been the President since 2009, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the ANC’s leadership in December, had failed.
After nearly 10 hours of heated debate, Ramaphosa and a key ally of Zuma left the meeting to drive to the President’s official residence to deliver an ultimatum: stand down or face “recall”, a technical term for the process of forcing an ANC official to leave their post.
If Zuma is ousted by a no-confidence vote, the speaker of parliament will serve as an interim President until elected representatives chose a new head of state.
However a “defiant” Zuma demanded a three month “notice period” before resigning, an ANC official told the Guardian.
A press conference has been announced at the ANC headquarters here later on Tuesday.
Zuma headed the ANC, the party that led South Africans to freedom from apartheid in 1994, from December 2007 to December 2017.
His nine years as President have been marred by economic decline and multiple charges of corruption that undermined the image and legitimacy of ANC.
However, the 75-year-old retains significant support inside the party and at a local level in many parts of South Africa, the Guardian reported.
Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author, said: “Zuma is not just a person. He is a system. There are a whole lot of people whose political fortunes are tied to his.
“We are watching a battle for the soul of the ANC. It’s a referendum on the true balance of power within the party.”
“South Africa’s going through a period of uncertainty and anxiety as a result of the unresolved matter of transition,” Magashule said, adding that the decision was a difficult one “taken after exhaustive discussions”.
Magashule did not give a deadline or transition period for Zuma to resign. The President’s term had been due to end next year.
The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided the removal should be “treated with urgency”, said Magashule. “It is obvious we want Comrade Ramaphosa to come in as the President of South Africa,” he added.
It will be very difficult for Zuma to resist a formal request to step down but he would not be legally obliged to do so and could technically carry on as President despite losing the faith of his party, the BBC said.
However, he would then be expected to face a confidence vote in Parliament. The vote has been scheduled for February 22, but it could be held earlier.
Despite Magashule saying that “the decision is now final”, he revealed that Zuma told him that he “did not believe the NEC has the right” to make such a ruling.
Magashule said Zuma was expected to respond to the NEC’s decision on Wednesday, although they had given him no deadline. (IANS)