South Africa’s opposition demanded Thursday that the ruling ANC party end confusion over President Jacob Zuma’s expected departure from office, as tense transition talks continued in Cape Town.
ANC party officials met with Zuma over the weekend to request his resignation, but he refused, triggering a week of dramatic political manoeuvring.
The ANC said in a statement on Thursday said it was awaiting the “imminent conclusion” of negotiations between Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, the president-in-waiting.
But the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party Mmusi Maimane warned that South Africa could not “be held in limbo while Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma… fight over the terms of Zuma’s exit”.
“We need a swift resolution to this impasse as soon as possible,” Maimane added, calling for Parliament to vote in a no-confidence motion against the president on Tuesday.
Zuma, whose rule since 2009 has been dominated by graft scandals, has been under growing pressure to quit in favour of Ramaphosa, his deputy and the new African National Congress (ANC) party leader.
Maimane also said that Zuma, who is facing numerous legal cases, must not be offered criminal amnesty as part of any resignation deal.
“He is not above the law,” Maimane said, predicting that “Jacob Zuma will retire in prison.”
The radical opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party have meanwhile called for a “national shutdown” to force Zuma out.
On a leaked audiotape, ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile confirmed that Zuma had refused to resign and that the ANC had been ready to recall him at a crunch meeting.
That gathering, scheduled for Wednesday, was cancelled at short notice with Ramaphosa saying the move would “enable President Zuma and myself to conclude our discussions.”
The government also postponed an awards ceremony on Saturday at which Zuma was due to officiate, clearing the president’s diary.
“Normally when a sitting president is asked to step down, it happens. But President Zuma has declared his unwillingness,” said Amanda Gouws, a political science professor at Stellenbosch University.
“Now it seems he is trying to negotiate a deal which will free him and his family from prosecution after he steps down — that puts Ramaphosa in a very difficult position.”
The power struggle has rocked the ANC, the renowned liberation movement that under Nelson Mandela led the fight against white-minority rule but has since lost much public support.
Despite the attacks on him, Zuma — a hardened political survivor — still enjoys some backing within the party, particularly among rural members and within his own Zulu community.
His presidency has been marked by an economic slowdown, record unemployment and multiple allegations of corruption.
He faces several court cases, including action relating to 783 payments he received allegedly linked to an arms deal before he came to power in 2009.
Many graft allegations against him have centred on the wealthy Gupta family, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to choose ministerial appointments.
Save South Africa, an anti-Zuma campaign group, said it was “deeply concerned at the veil of secrecy surrounding negotiations” over the president’s exit.
“Shuffling Zuma out of the back-door, with any number of trade-offs and compromises, is not only bad for Mr Ramaphosa — it is bad for South Africa,” it said.
Ramaphosa’s backers are keen for him to take over as president immediately and try to revive the economy before the election, when the ANC could lose its dominance for the first time since the end of apartheid.
The London-based EXX Africa consultancy said Ramaphosa would likely replace Zuma within days and would then launch a corruption crackdown to shore up his political authority.