JOHANNESBURG – South African President Jacob Zuma’s exit from power because of scandals appeared to be getting closer on Wednesday as his deputy, who is expected to replace him, said he anticipated a “speedy resolution” to transition talks he is holding with the president.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged “a lot of speculation and anxiety” about the status of the president. But Ramaphosa said he and Zuma, beset by corruption allegations, would finish their discussions and report in the coming days to the ruling African National Congress party and the population of one of Africa’s biggest economies.
“This is a challenging time for our country,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure. The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division.”
The announcement followed several disputed reports that reflected a growing mood of uncertainty over the protracted wait for a resolution to the country’s leadership crisis. Zuma’s office described a social media report that Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to visit the country this week as “fake” news. It also denied allegations by opponents that he was preparing to fire Ramaphosa.
The speaker of parliament has said Zuma, who is under intense pressure to resign, will not give the state of the nation address in parliament that had been set for Thursday and the ruling ANC announced the postponement of a meeting Wednesday to discuss the president’s fate. Ramaphosa said the meeting was delayed to allow for a conclusion to his talks with Zuma.
More information about Zuma’s status as president will be available once “all pertinent matters” have been finalized, said Ramaphosa, who took over from his boss as party leader in December and has since delivered strong anti-corruption messages. Many former supporters who have turned against Zuma have worried that he is digging in or at least trying to make a deal, possibly including immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his resignation.
The presidency’s office tweeted a photo of Zuma and Ramaphosa laughing together at a Cabinet meeting, in an apparent effort to project an image of close collaboration between the two leaders. It also continued to announce Zuma’s upcoming official schedule, saying the president would preside on Saturday over an awards ceremony in Cape Town for South Africans who have promoted the country’s international image.
South African opposition parties said the country is in “limbo” as the ruling party struggles to resolve its internal conflict over Zuma, and that there are now two centres of power in the ANC and the government. Opposition leaders will meet on Monday to discuss a scheduled motion of no confidence in Zuma on Feb. 22 as well as parliament’s mandate to elect a new president in the event that Zuma is removed, the parties said.
Zuma has been embroiled in scandals for years, paying back some state money following multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home, being criticized for his association with the Gupta business family accused of looting state enterprises and influencing Cabinet ministers for their own benefit, and now facing the possible reinstatement of corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
Zuma’s second five-year term is scheduled to end with elections in 2019, but many ruling party members want Ramaphosa to take over as soon as possible so that the party can try to recover the trust of voters alienated by the president’s scandals.
The ANC was the main anti-apartheid movement for decades and has led South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994, but its moral stature has diminished because of Zuma and wider problems of corruption and mismanagement.
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