S. Africa ruling party meets to end deadlock over Zuma


JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling ANC met on Monday to “finalize” the departure of embattled President Jacob Zuma after party chief Cyril Ramaphosa promised to bring “closure” to deadlocked talks.

Ramaphosa said at a party rally in Cape Town on Sunday he wanted to replace “a period of difficulty, disunity and discord” with “a new beginning” for the party.

“We know you want this matter to be finalized,” he said to rapturous cheering, vowing to tackle corruption that has tarnished Zuma’s government.

Zuma has clung to power after rejecting a request by his party’s senior officials to resign a week ago.

The party’s powerful 107-member national executive committee (NEC) were called to a hotel outside Pretoria for a meeting scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Cars carrying ANC leaders drew into the venue, but no official word was expected to confirm the closed-door meeting had started.

The committee could recall the president from office, though he would be under no constitutional obligation to obey the order.

“We know you want closure,” Ramaphosa said on Sunday. “Because our people want this matter to be finalized, the NEC will be doing precisely that.”

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the committee was split, and warned some members facing corrupt allegations while serving Zuma were “not fighting for a principle or the ANC, it will be the basic instinct of self-preservation.”

“They will strive for consensus, but if that fails, it will go to a vote,” he told eNCA television.

“Those who are pushed into a corner will be seen as having tried to block this transition.

“The pressure is so much, it has to be the final decision for the ANC leadership. If they fail to do so, they will have surrendered the initiative.”

Zuma’s presidency has been marred by corruption scandals, slow economic growth and record unemployment that have fuelled public anger.

The stalemate over Zuma’s departure has left Africa’s most developed economy in limbo, with a series of public events canceled last week including Thursday’s State of the Nation address to parliament.

Opposition parties have threatened a “national shutdown” in response to the power vacuum — although it was unclear if the action would go ahead.

Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — narrowly lost out to Ramaphosa in a vote to be the new party leader.

Sunday’s rally was part of ANC celebrations marking 100 years since Nelson Mandela’s birth — as well as efforts by Ramaphosa to try to revive the party’s tainted reputation ahead of next year’s general election.

He was speaking to mark the 28th anniversary of the speech Mandela gave in the same location after being released from prison in 1990.

It is understood that a key sticking point in the negotiations is the potentially ruinous legal fees Zuma is facing from prolonged court battles against multiple criminal cases.

He is also reportedly seeking legal protection for his family and other associates who have been involved in controversial deals.

If Zuma does not resign, he could be ousted via a parliamentary vote of no-confidence within days.

The ANC has insisted there will be no delay to the budget, which is due on Feb. 21.

Zuma has not spoken publicly since being asked to resign by senior ANC officials on Feb. 4. — AFP