The executive body of South Africa’s ruling party is expected to order Jacob Zuma to resign as president on Monday or face a no-confidence vote in parliament that he would almost certainly lose.
A special meeting of the African National Congress’s national executive committee was convened when it became clear that nearly five days of talks between Zuma and the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the leadership of the ANC in December, had failed.
According to ANC rules, all members, including elected officials, fulfil their functions according to the will of the party.
Zuma has overseen a tumultuous nine years in power marked by economic decline and faces multiple charges of corruption.
The ANC, in power since the racist apartheid regime came to an end in 1994, has been thrown into crisis by an increasingly chaotic transfer of power from the incumbent president to his deputy and rival.
“Obviously we have reached the end of the road with the man – we will recall him,” an NEC member told the South African TV network News24, using a technical term for the process of ordering an ANC official to leave their post.
“Zuma has humiliated the ANC enough, we must end this thing on Monday,” a second committee member told the network.
Speaking in Cape Town on Sunday at the launch of year-long celebrations to mark 100 years since the birth of the former president Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa did not directly mention Zuma but spoke of “discussions around the transition to a new administration and specifically to resolve the issues of the position of the president of the republic”.
“The NEC will be meeting tomorrow to discuss this very matter and because our people want this matter to be finalised, the NEC will be doing precisely that. Comrades … we know you want closure,” the 68-year-old labour leader turned tycoon said.
Analysts say the uncertainty is damaging the ANC and has exposed deep rifts within the party.
Ramaphosa, who won a bitterly fought internal election to become party president, has the support of 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 local level in some provinces.
“It’s clear that Ramaphosa and his team believe they have a solid majority [on the executive committee] and expect to win. Many of those who once backed Zuma have moved towards Ramaphosa,” said Richard Calland, an expert in South African politics at the University of Cape Town.
Ramaphosa has said he wants the president, who faces 18 counts of corruption mainly relating to an arms deal nearly 20 years ago, to have a “dignified” exit and told MPs last week that he has ruled out any formal amnesty or impunity.
Unless he is successfully impeached, Zuma, whose second term ends next year, will keep his salary and many of the perks of office, including healthcare, security and significant benefits for members of his family.
A confidence vote is scheduled to be held in parliament in 10 days.
Zuma’s premature departure would consolidate the power of Ramaphosa, who has been his 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 for elections in 2019.
The party suffered significant setbacks at municipal polls in 2016 and could be forced into a coalition government at the national level, experts say.
The ANC has weathered such crises before. In 2008 Thabo Mbeki stood down as president a year before the end of his term after the ruling party formally requested his resignation over allegations he had misused his power. His deputy took over until Zuma led the party to another victory in the 2009 elections and became president.