Jacob Zuma remains South Africa’s president for the time being as the new leader of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, plans how to bring an end to his scandal-ridden administration without unleashing a major split in the ruling party.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee didn’t discuss the option of forcing Zuma from office at a meeting Wednesday in the southern city of East London, according to three members of the panel who spoke on condition of anonymity. Earlier in the week, three of the NEC’s 86 voting members, who also asked not to be identified, said the matter would be raised.
Ramaphosa, 65, must strike a delicate balance between assuaging the concerns of Zuma supporters and meeting the desire of his own backers for the president’s quick removal. A lack of support from a clear majority in the NEC will limit his scope to convince voters before 2019 elections that he can rebuild the battered economy and clamp down on the alleged graft that’s become synonymous with the Zuma era.
“For Ramaphosa to build on the momentum of his ascendancy to ANC president and boost investor confidence, he will only have a relatively short window to remove Zuma,” said Mike Davies, the founder of political-advisory company Kigoda Consulting. “After that, the Zuma camp will be able to consolidate, and other factors will start to erode recent optimism that his election means significant change.”
Ramaphosa, the nation’s deputy president, was elected ANC leader by a narrow margin last month, warding off a challenge from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and favored successor. A former labor-union activist, businessman and lead negotiator in talks to end apartheid in the 1990s, Ramaphosa may be playing a long game in his bid to remove Zuma.
He could allow Zuma to remain in office while he acts as an effective chief executive, building up support in the party by engineering a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle, while allowing legal cases to catch up with Zuma before removing him in six to nine months, according to Robert Schrire, a political science professor at the University of Cape Town.
If Zuma is smart, he will take this deal,” Schrire said. “If not, it will be war which only Cyril can win — but at great cost to his party and his presidency.”
Supporters of Ramaphosa in the NEC plan to propose Zuma’s removal at the January 18 meeting of the panel, according to three people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified. Lawyers for Ramaphosa are studying a December 29 court ruling that ordered parliament to draft rules governing the circumstances under which Zuma could be removed from office, with the view of using that to argue for his ouster, the people said.
The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma, 75, took office in May 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He’s spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Zuma may have warded off an ouster bid by agreeing to the establishment of a commission headed by a judge nominated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to investigate the claims that the Guptas had wielded undue control over the state. The president approved the probe in a private meeting with Ramaphosa on Jan. 7, according to three ANC officials with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the talks weren’t publicly disclosed.
Zuma previously appealed a court ruling ordering him to initiate the inquiry as directed by the nation’s graft ombudsman, despite the ANC adopting a resolution that the investigation should proceed. Zuma argued that only he had the right to appoint judicial commissions and decide on their terms of reference.
Disgruntlement with Zuma’s rule caused support for the ANC to fall to a record low in the 2016 municipal elections and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital. His second and final term is due to end around mid-2019.
Ramaphosa, a lawyer and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, is widely expected to adopt more business-friendly policies and his election as ANC leader helped boost the rand 11% last month, the most among the world’s major currencies.
The rand has weakened 0.8% over the past two days, as expectations of Zuma’s imminent exit receded, and was 12.46 per dollar at 9:19 a.m. on Thursday in Johannesburg.
© 2018 Bloomberg L.P