JOHANNESBURG – President Jacob Zuma’s exit from office edged closer as party leaders cancelled a series of public appearances, fuelling speculation they were finalising his departure.
The sudden decision by the party’s “top six” leaders to abandon plans to join celebrations in Cape Town marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth prompted further reports that Zuma was about to step down.
“The national officials of the ANC will no longer participate… This is because of various other commitments they are required to attend to,” said a party statement.
Zuma is reportedly negotiating an exit deal, with payment of his future legal fees emerging as a key sticking point.
The ANC has said it is awaiting the “imminent conclusion” of talks between Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, but gave no further details.
The impasse led to the State of the Nation address — the flagship occasion of the political year — being postponed this week, though the ANC insists that the budget speech on 21 February will not be delayed.
The government also postponed an awards ceremony on Saturday at which Zuma was to officiate, effectively emptying his short-term diary.
Zuma’s wife Thobeka Madiba-Zuma posted a picture of the couple on Instagram, adding a defiant comment that warned against “picking a fight with someone who is not fighting you”.
Zuma (75), who has been in office since 2009, has clung to power despite a string of corruption scandals, an economic slowdown and record unemployment.
He faces several court cases, including action relating to 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power.
Many of the recent graft allegations are linked to the Guptas, a wealthy Indian business family accused of improperly winning government contracts and influencing cabinet appointments.
Ramaphosa, a seasoned negotiator with experience of mediating conflicts elsewhere in Africa, told ANC lawmakers on Thursday that he would need only “a day or two” to complete the transition, party veteran Snuki Zikalala said.
Ramaphosa (65) is due to speak at an ANC rally in Cape Town on Sunday, marking 11 February, the day that Mandela was released from jail in 1990 — a defining moment in the fall of apartheid rule.
In 2007, the party pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki over allegations of abuse of power.