South Africans awoke to find their nation in limbo after President Jacob Zuma’s refusal to obey his ruling African National Congress’s request to resign voluntarily prompted its top leadership to order his removal from office.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee decided to “recall” Zuma, 75, during a 13-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday, according to five people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public. It marked the failure of efforts to convince Zuma to agree to an amicable transfer of power from his scandal-ridden administration to one headed by party leader Cyril Ramaphosa.
Unless Zuma decides to resign soon, the ANC will have to order its lawmakers in parliament to approve a motion of no confidence in the president. The political impasse has already forced the unprecedented postponement of last week’s scheduled annual state-of-the-nation address and may imperil the presentation of the budget on Feb. 21.
The ANC has scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m. to explain its next move.
“There is nothing good about a leadership limbo in any country,” said Daniel Silke, the director of Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town. “This extreme political uncertainty is the last thing South Africa needs as it tries to claw back some credibility in the minds of investors and the global community.”
The ANC wants Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old former union leader and businessman, to take over as soon as possible before elections next year so he has time to show he can meet his pledges to rebuild a battered economy—the most industrialized in Africa—and clamp down on the graft that critics say marred the Zuma era.
The rand has gained the most against the dollar of the 16 major currencies since his Dec. 18 election as ANC leader. It fluctuated in a narrow range on Tuesday, gaining as much as 0.3 percent and weakening as much as as 0.5 percent against the dollar. It was 0.2 percent stronger at 11.9141 per dollar by 10:34 a.m. in Johannesburg, adding to the 1.9 percent advance in the previous two sessions.
The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family, who are in business with one of his sons, to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Zuma’s future, both within the ANC and as a private citizen, is in play, according to Abdul Waheed Patel, the managing director of Cape Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting.
“Everything is going to be dependent on how he exits,” he said by phone. “The possibility that he will be removed through a parliamentary motion looks more likely now than it did a few hours ago. It’s not looking like he will resign voluntarily.”
South Africa’s opposition parties want the National Assembly to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma this week and for parliament to be dissolved immediately after that ahead of an early election. The Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-biggest party, last month proposed the no-confidence motion that’s currently due to be debated on Feb. 22, and plans to go to court if it isn’t brought forward.
Drought a national disaster
The South African government has declared the drought affecting the southern and western areas of the country a national disaster.
The decision hands primary responsibility to coordinate and manage measures to deal with the drought to the national executive, according to a statement by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday. The government will “strengthen and support the disaster management structures to implement contingency plans and ensure that immediate relief, recovery and reconstruction measures are put in place to enable the national executive to effectively deal with the effects of this disaster,” according to the statement.
Cape Town, which is contending with the worst drought on record, has pushed out the estimated date on which it may have to turn off water supplies to residents by about four weeks to May 11, as use by farmers declines.