Zuma Defying ANC's Call to Quit Leaves South Africa in Limbo
(Bloomberg) -- 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 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 is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. to explain its next move. Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.
“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 labor 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 Tuesday, gaining as much as 0.5 percent and weakening as much as as 0.5 percent against the dollar. It was 0.4 percent stronger at 11.8899 per dollar by 12:25 p.m. in Johannesburg, adding to the 1.9 percent advance in the previous two sessions.
The ANC will convene a special meeting of its parliamentary caucus on Wednesday, its chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, said, without revealing what would be discussed. A scheduled gathering of chief whips from all the political parties was brought forward by two hours, and the start of parliamentary committee meetings was delayed.
Zuma, the ANC’s former head of intelligence, 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.
Disgruntlement with Zuma’s rule caused support for the ANC to fall in 2016 municipal elections and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria.
Under Zuma, economic growth has averaged just 1.6 percent a year, undermined partly by a series of policy missteps and inappropriate appointments that rocked investor and business confidence.
His second and final term was due to end around mid-2019. He survived two previous bids to topple him in the ANC’s NEC since November 2016, but the balance of power in the panel shifted after Ramaphosa won the party presidency.
“This leadership impasse is debilitating for the country,” Silke said. “It is depressing for its citizens, it is damaging for the ruling party and in particular it is damaging for the incoming leader Ramaphosa because of his inability to deliver a killer blow.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.