South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has recalled President Jacob Zuma, leaving South Africans waiting to see whether the president will abide by the party’s decision and hand in his resignation.
If Zuma decides not to resign, it will force a no confidence vote in the Parliament. While he has survived many such votes in the past, the party has increasingly turned against him as corruption allegations have mounted.
“We are giving him time and space to respond. We haven’t given him any deadline to respond,” ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule said on Tuesday in Johannesburg. “When we recall our deployee, we expect our deployee to do what the organisation expects him to do … I don’t know what will happen. Let’s leave it to President Jacob Zuma.”
Pressure on Zuma, who is 75, to resign has been mounting since December, when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as head of the party.
Zuma came to power in 2009, but his last years in office have been mired in a series of high-profile corruption scandals and accusations of mismanagement that has seen a steady decline in the popularity of Nelson Mandela’s storied liberation movement.
Several local media outlets reported early on Tuesday that a defiant Zuma had refused to resign in the face of party pressure.
If the party does indeed recall Zuma and he resigns, Ramaphosa would become acting president, according to South African law.
To Zuma’s critics, the president’s early departure – his term as head of state is not up until national elections next year – would mark the end of a frustrating era in which the nation drifted and Zuma’s name has become nearly synonymous with the use of the public office for personal gain.
An anti-apartheid struggle veteran with a knack for connecting with his rural base, many South Africans welcomed Zuma’s election in 2009 after the technocratic government Thabo Mbeki.
Ironically, Zuma could be ousted by the same methods he once orchestrated against Mbeki.
Mbeki sacked Zuma in 2005 from his post as deputy president after Zuma was implicated in corruption allegations. After his ousting, Zuma maneuvered his way back to power and was elected ANC president in a stunning political comeback just two years later.
In 2008, Mbeki was recalled as president by the Zuma-led party after a court ruled Mbeki interfered in the work of government prosecutors. Mbeki followed the party’s lead and resigned from office, paving the way for Zuma’s ascent as head of state.
But nearly a decade later, many of the promises of a better life in a democratic South Africa have slipped away on Zuma’s watch. The number of people living in poverty and extreme poverty both increased by some 3 million between 2011 and 2015. Unemployment hovers at more than 27 per cent. The under-resourced public health and education sectors struggle to deliver to nearly 57 million South Africans, and the economy, one of the largest and most sophisticated in Africa, dipped briefly into recession last year.
South Africans have also become fed up with a series of corruption allegations engulfing Zuma and some of his family members and friends.
A wily political operator, Zuma has become the ultimate “Teflon president” in recent years, surviving several opposition-led attempts in parliament to unseat him. Opposition politicians have also been trying – unsuccessfully, so far – to get 18 charges of fraud, corruption and other crimes against him reinstated that were dropped before he became president. He has denied the charges.
In March 2016, Zuma was found to have “failed to uphold” the constitution after ignoring an order by the government’s anti-corruption watchdog to pay back millions spent on non-security upgrades to his private estate, Nkandla, including a swimming pool and cattle pen. Zuma apologised to the nation and paid back the mandated sum of money.
In October that same year, the watchdog had another instruction for Zuma: appoint a commission of inquiry into allegations that a wealthy family, the Guptas, used their proximity to Zuma to build up their business empire. A subsequent flood of emails leaked to the South African press, known as the “Gupta Leaks”, catalogued more examples of similar alleged improprieties and infuriated South African voters. Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
Should Ramaphosa become the next president, many South Africans hope the 65-year-old businessman and anti-apartheid activist will put South Africa on a new path, taking on corruption and restoring the reputation of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
“Leaders make a difference. It changes the atmosphere,” said William Gumede, executive chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation. “It potentially could be a kind of Mandela moment.”