Closed door meetings in the coming days are likely to decide how South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma’s chequered political career will come to an end – a process that could lead to either a dignified resignation or less dignified exit in Parliament on live TV. Next week members of the ruling National African National Congress (ANC) will gather in East London, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, to celebrate its 106th birthday; a meeting of the all-powerful National Executive Committee will be part of the gathering.
Sources told CNBC Africa that officials of the ruling African National Congress are meeting with President Zuma to try to negotiate a swift and dignified exit. President Zuma could stay until the next elections in 2019, but a growing number of his party colleagues see his prolonged tainted leadership as a quick way to lose power against a resurgent opposition.
“My sources tell me that meetings are being held to decide the future. President Zuma will be given a chance to resign with dignity or face being removed by a vote of no confidence,” says Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst with the Helen Suzman Foundation.
“I can see he is being backed into a corner.”
If no deal can be brokered that corner could be yet another motion of no confidence in Parliament at its opening on February 8. He has survived four such calls, since 2015, but the last one was by the skin of his teeth – by a mere 21 votes, on August 8.
This time, analysts believe, many more loyalists could jump the Zuma ship as former mining magnate Cyril Ramaphosa took over the mantle of president-elect by winning the presidency of the ANC on December 18. In the slender defeat of the no confidence vote, in August, at least 30 ANC MPs voted to remove their own president.
The opposition Democratic Alliance said on December 29 that it planned to table an impeachment in Parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled President Zuma failed to uphold and defend the Constitution of South Africa in the spending of taxpayers’ money on his private Nkandla residence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki believes President Zuma is yet likely to survive another call In Parliament to step down.
“You have to understand most of the MPs are still his loyalists,” says Mbeki.
“If Zuma loses the no confidence vote there could be even more chaos. Cabinet will have to dissolve and there could be a tussle over who Parliament will appoint as interim president. There is no guarantee that Cyril will end up as the interim head of state.”
It could all hinge on words spoken behind closed doors in East London next week.