South Africa’s government was thrown into turmoil Tuesday after President Jacob Zuma refused his party’s demand to stand down, according to reports.
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa and Secretary-General Ace Magashule visited Zuma at his home in Pretoria late Monday to deliver an ultimatum: quit or be stripped of power.
By defying his party, Zuma looks set for a protracted battle with ANC leadership, who could move to impeach the 75-year-old within days.
The decision to call for his resignation was taken by senior members of the party during a heated, 13-hour debate at a specially convened meeting of the National Executive Committee.
But Zuma was defiant, telling visitors he would respond to his party’s decision publicly, giving no commitment to stand aside.
Zuma was given formal notice of his party’s recall of support early Tuesday.
The Executive Committee meeting was called after it emerged this weekend that lengthy talks between Zuma and Ramaphosa had failed to deliver a consensus.
According to local media, Zuma is angry with Ramaphosa after the pair reportedly agreed to a timeframe for his resignation — including delivering the cancelled State of the Union address last week.
Zuma was also hoping to take a tour of the country with Ramaphosa — the man most likely to replace him as president — to present a unified front to the ANC base.
Zuma has reportedly committed to resigned in three months time, though he has no legal obligation to do so and can continue to defy his party and rule without their support.
However, this will result in a confidence vote in parliament — described by some as a nightmare option — which is currently scheduled for Feb. 22 but could happen sooner.
At a press conference Tuesday, Magashule confirmed the decision to call for Zuma’s resignation. He said no deadline had been set but that his removal “should be treated with urgency.”
Despite years of controversy and economic woe, Zuma still commands huge support in the country, especially in rural areas such as his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma has been dogged by allegations of corruption and in 2016 the country’s highest court ruled he had breached the constitution by failing to repay money spent on his private residence.
Last year the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that he should face up to 16 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering linked to a 1999 arms deal.
More recently his close ties to the wealthy Indian-born Gupta family — that are alleged to have influenced Zuma’s administration — have led to more allegations of corruption and seen his popularity plummet.
Cover image: Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, waits to address the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)