South Africa’s ruling party has ordered Jacob Zuma to step down as head of state after marathon talks over the fate of the scandal-plagued president.
Leading members of the ruling African National Congress want new party leader Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Mr Zuma as president, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule told a news conference on Tuesday local time.
But the party’s national executive was split on precisely when Mr Zuma should go, Mr Magashule added, leaving the President’s immediate fate still hanging in the balance.
There was no word from Mr Zuma or his spokesman, but Mr Magashule said the President had promised to respond to the order by Wednesday.
Mr Magashule said he had met Mr Zuma personally to pass on the decision.
“We haven’t given him any deadline to respond,” he said. “The organisation expects him to go.”
Mr Zuma had asked the party to give him a notice period of three to six months, but that had been rejected, Mr Magashule said.
“Timelines? No. The NEC believes that this is an urgent matter so it should be treated with urgency,” he said.
Mr Zuma has been under pressure to stand down since Mr Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer once tipped as Mr Mandela’s choice to take over the reins, was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December.
Mr Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Mr Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the leadership vote, forcing him to tread carefully in handling the President for fear of deepening rifts in the party a year ahead of an election.
Despite the damning decision to order Mr Zuma’s “recall” – party speak for “removal from office” – local media said the 75-year-old might yet defy the party’s wishes, forcing it into the indignity of having to unseat him in parliament.
South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Mr Zuma’s nine-year tenure, with banks and mining companies reluctant to invest because of policy uncertainty and rampant corruption.
But since mid-November, when Mr Ramaphosa emerged as a real ANC leadership prospect, economic confidence has started to pick up.
The South African currency, the rand, a telling barometer of Mr Zuma’s fortunes, gained more than 15 per cent against the US dollar over that period.
Since becoming president in 2009, Mr Zuma has been dogged by scandal. He is fighting the reinstatement of 783 counts of corruption over a 30 billion-rand ($3.2-billion) government arms deal arranged in the late 1990s when he was deputy president.