In a tense meeting last weekend, some ministers asked the scandal-plagued president, Jacob Zuma, to step down. Despite near-constant accusations of corruption, he survived the latest mutiny. After this weekend’s revolt, the president has never looked weaker. On his watch, the economy is performing dismally. The rand has plunged. Mr Zuma is losing his grip, but he will not give up without a fight, writes our South Africa correspondent.
WHEN African National Congress (ANC) bigwigs met last weekend, the debate was reportedly so heated that it almost came to blows. In an unprecedented show of defiance against Jacob Zuma, some cabinet ministers asked the scandal-plagued president to step down. The intense reaction among the ANC’s 104-member executive committee saw the meeting drag on for an extra day. But in the end Mr Zuma stayed. Unpopular even among ANC supporters, he has nonetheless proved adept at remaining in office by corralling support from a majority of the ANC executive. These people have the power to order Mr Zuma to step down as president of South Africa. But despite near-constant accusations of corruption, Mr Zuma has survived the latest mutiny, just as he has survived previous ones.
South Africa’s president escapes a political coup
The ANC is divided, and this attempt to oust Mr Zuma has exposed its divisions anew. At a press briefing on November 28th the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, said the party had rejected a request that Mr Zuma step down after “robust” debate. According to reports, Derek Hanekom, the tourism minister, led the call for the president to go, supported by other cabinet ministers. Other ANC leaders have also had enough. Jackson Mthembu, the party’s chief whip in parliament, last month called for Mr Zuma and the rest of the ANC’s top brass to stand down. The ANC in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, have long spoken out against the president. Looking to the future, Cosatu, the labour union federation and an ally of the ANC, is openly backing Mr Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, to become ANC president (and by implication the country’s next president).
Despite all the evidence against Mr Zuma, and the damage he has done to the ANC’s electoral chances, much of the party remains loyal to him—even if that loyalty has been grudging. The party leadership backed Mr Zuma after South Africa’s highest court ruled earlier this year that he had violated the constitution. They supported him again in October when the country’s anti-graft ombudsman demanded that a judicial commission should investigate whether his close friends, the Gupta family, had undue influence in cabinet appointments and government contracts.
But the party has suffered for backing the boss so loyally. The ANC lost control of several of the country’s biggest cities in local elections in August. The economy is performing dismally and the rand has plunged, partly thanks to the undeclared war between Mr Zuma and his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who seeks to keep public expenditure under control. The ANC is divided between factions that support the president and those that want him to go. After this weekend’s revolt, the president has never looked weaker.
Little by little, Mr Zuma is losing his grip. The party will hold its five-yearly elective congress in December 2017. It will also hold a policy conference in June that may take on broader significance. Mr Zuma is unlikely to stand for a third time as party leader, though his term as South African president continues until 2019. His chances of making it that long are diminishing. But with the potential reinstatement of 783 charges of fraud and corruption still hanging over his head, he will surely want to see the party taken over by someone who will protect him, such as his ex-wife. And he will not give up without a fight.