Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, is expected to leave office within days, parliamentarians from the ruling African National Congress party have said.
Zuma, who is facing multiple charges of corruption, has been negotiating the terms of his departure with Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC leader.
Ramaphosa pulled out of public events to focus on “pressing matters” on Friday, fuelling speculation that he was making a final push to convince Zuma, 75, to step down as South Africa’s head of state before a major ANC rally on Sunday.
The party, in power since the end of the repressive, racist apartheid regime in 1994, has been thrown into crisis by an increasingly chaotic transfer of power from the incumbent president to his deputy and rival.
Ramaphosa told parliamentarians on Thursday he hoped to conclude talks with the president over a transition of power “in coming days ... in the interests of the country”.
An MP told the Guardian on condition of anonymity: “He said [the negotiations] would not drag on and that we should basically expect news any moment. No one wants this to go into next week and go on and on.”
A second MP said Ramaphosa had indicated the negotiations were about “small practical things, not a big argument”.
- Zuma is facing 18 charges of money laundering, racketeering and fraud based on allegations relating to more than 700 payments between 1995 and the 2000s. Some of the charges are said to be linked to a multibillion-dollar arms deal in 1999. The charges were dropped shortly before Zuma became president in 2009, but were reinstated in 2016. He is appealing against that decision, and denies any wrongdoing.
- In 2014, a constitutionally mandated independent corruption watchdog accused Zuma of spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to turn his house in his home village of Nkandla into a display of “opulence on a grand scale”. Zuma denied the charge but South Africa’s highest court eventually forced him to repay some of the money.
- The president has repeatedly been accused of improper relations with the Guptas, a very wealthy family of businessmen. Zuma’s son works for the Guptas and the president is accused of allowing the family to benefit from government contracts and handpick senior officials. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
- In 2016, Zuma was forced to order a review of the purchase with public funds of hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of cars for his four wives. The 11 cars included four Range Rover SUVs and two Land Rover Discovery SUVs.
But analysts warned that predictions of an early exit for Zuma could be too optimistic as the growing chaos surrounding the talks could allow a “mutiny” within the ANC by the veteran politician’s supporters.”
“Expectations are so high that every day that passes without a firm announcement from the ANC is very damaging … you can feel the balance of power shifting away from Ramaphosa and towards Zuma,” said Ralph Mathekga, an analyst and author.
It is still possible that Zuma will be ordered to resign by the ANC, though this may raise significant constitutional issues. According to ANC rules, all members, even elected officials, fulfil their functions according to the will of the party.
It would also anger the powerful faction within the ANC that is still loyal to the president.
Experts say Ramaphosa, who won a bitterly fought internal election to become president of the ANC in December, has the support of only just over half the members of its top decision-making body. Zuma retains significant support in the party’s youth and women’s leagues, as well as at a local level in some provinces.
Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, an ex-wife of Zuma, posted a picture of herself with the president on Friday captioned: “It’s going to get rough … don’t fight with someone who is not fighting you”.
“Zuma did not join the ANC in 1991, jumped ship or hip-hopped between the struggle and wealth accumulation”, she wrote, in a comment directed at Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader and anti-apartheid activist turned multimillionaire businessman.
Ramaphosa has said he wanted the president to have a “dignified” exit and told the MPs that he has ruled out any formal amnesty or impunity. Unless he is successfully impeached, Zuma will keep his salary and many of the perks of office, including healthcare, security and significant benefits for members of his family.
The Democratic Alliance, an opposition party, said: “It is incomprehensible that immunity would even be considered given the devastating impact Zuma’s presidency has had on the country. It also shows that the ANC under Ramaphosa is the very same ANC it was under Zuma.”
Zuma’s premature departure – his second five-year term is due to expire in 2019 – would consolidate the power of Ramaphosa, who has been Zuma’s deputy since 2014. Ramaphosa would become president, in accordance with the constitution.
Supporters of Ramaphosa, who is seen as the standard bearer of the party’s reformist wing, say it is essential Zuma is sidelined as early as possible to allow the ANC to regroup before campaigning starts in earnest for elections in 2019.
Zuma had led the ANC since 2007 and has been South Africa’s president since 2009. His tenure in both posts has been marred by a series of corruption scandals that have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994.
“Just because he has stopped being president does not mean he has stopped being Jacob Zuma. I don’t think he sees this as the end of his political career. He can be a very disruptive force going forward,” said Mathekga.