from Africa in Transition

Timeline: Opposition Grows as Zuma Remains in Office

President Jacob Zuma leaves Tuynhuys, the office of the Presidency at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. This is where Zuma and Ramaphosa chaired a routine cabinet committees meeting. Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

February 9, 2018

President Jacob Zuma leaves Tuynhuys, the office of the Presidency at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. This is where Zuma and Ramaphosa chaired a routine cabinet committees meeting. Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
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The impending resignation of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa was not necessarily unexpected following the defeat of his preferred candidate in the elections for African National Congress (ANC) party leader in December. However, it is happening more quickly than many observers predicted, including this one. A Council Expert’s Brief will soon appear on the resignation. As we go into the weekend, readers may find helpful a chronology of events to get a handle on the past week.

Note that the ANC’s highest decision-making body is the National Executive Committee (NEC), which numbers at least eighty. It strives for decision by consensus rather than by votes. When the NEC is not sitting, party affairs are in the hands of the National Working Committee (NWC). The Top Six, comprising the party's most senior leaders including the party's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is part of the NWC and the NEC. It normally handles day-to-day party business. The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is similar to a U.S. president’s state of the union address and therefore a major South African parliamentary calendar event. It likely must precede the announcement of the budget, scheduled for February 21.

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The timeline indicates that Zuma agreed to resign the presidency on February 6 in the face of his likely recall from the presidency by his own party at a NEC meeting, the possibility that he would lose a no-confidence vote in parliament, and a move to have him impeached. Resignation is a more dignified exit from the presidency than recall or loss of a no-confidence vote. A no confidence vote would apply to Zuma's whole cabinet, Ramaphosa included, and impeachment would imply criminal behavior. The latter would also force Zuma to lose his pension and other emoluments of office. Zuma has also has a set of unidentified “preconditions” for his resignation.

Thursday, February 1

  • Speaker of the House Baleka Mbete insists that SONA will go ahead as planned on February 7. This is despite speculation that SONA would be postponed to allow President Zuma to resign the presidency. If Zuma did resign, Cyril Ramaphosa would deliver the address as acting president. 

Friday, February 2

  • At the request of Julius Malema, head of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, Speaker Baleka Mbete agrees to schedule debate for a motion of no-confidence vote in the Zuma administration on February 22.
  • While praising the speaker’s decision to hold the vote, opposition parties criticize the decision to hold it after SONA, and issue a united call that “anyone but Zuma” should give the address.

Sunday, February 4

  • The Top Six and Zuma meet, during which the Top Six pressure Zuma to resign, but he refuses. This is later confirmed by media reports on remarks given by the ANC party treasurer.

Monday, February 5

  • The NWC meet at ANC party headquarters, Luthuli house, in Johannesburg. The press speculates that the NWC was preparing for a NEC meeting scheduled for February. It is reported that the ANC would recall Zuma at the scheduled NEC meeting.

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Tuesday, February 6

  • Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete postpones the SONA, contrary to what she said on February 1, citing numerous “threats to the event,” likely referring to reports of an opposition boycott. Shortly afterwards, Malema tweets, “He [Zuma] will resign anytime from now." The Democratic Alliance (center-right opposition) leader Mmusi Maimane demands that Zuma be impeached after learning that SONA had been postponed. 
  • Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, and party secretary general Ace Magashule meet at Genadendal, the president’s official Cape Town residence. The meeting begins around 4:00 p.m. Magashule eventually leaves, and Zuma and Ramaphosa meet alone. According to the media, Zuma agrees to resign as soon as a list of preconditions have been finalized. Further, the two agree to postpone the NEC meeting scheduled for the next day (at which it was reported that Zuma would be recalled) until February 17. 

Wednesday, February 7

  • Ramaphosa and Zuma attend “routine Cabinet Committees meetings in Cape Town.” Ramaphosa tweets confirmation that they discussed Zuma’s eventual departure. While no date is set, Zuma’s official diary is reportedly planned out until Sunday, raising the possibility that his resignation will take place soon after. Ramaphosa said that Zuma’s fate will be announced “in the coming days.”
  • Opposition parties (DA, EFF, Congress of the People, African Christian Democratic Party, and Freedom Front Plus) meet to discuss a way forward, particularly plans for a scheduled meeting on Monday, February 12, where they will address the EFF’s motion of no confidence and the election of a new president should it succeed. In a joint statement, opposition parties complain that the country “cannot grind to a halt to allow for a compromised ANC to fight their internal battles.”
  • Ramaphosa and Zuma hold another round of talks after hosting routine cabinet meetings earlier in the day. 

Thursday, February 8

  • According to anonymous reports from MPs who attended an ANC caucus meeting on February 8, Ramaphosa promises that he was not negotiating a deal that would protect Zuma from prosecution. Ramaphosa also reportedly said that it was a “matter of days” before the transition talks would be concluded. According to the same MP, Ramaphosa said it was a matter of days before Zuma “goes. The annual Ubuntu Awards are postponed until further notice

Friday, February 9

  • Ramaphosa, followed later by other members of the Top Six, pulls out of a scheduled public event for the day to focus on “pressing matters.” The Top Six are also scheduled to meet on Saturday, February 10.
  • Zuma and Ramaphosa will reportedly conclude talks before the end of the weekend, and the discussions are focused on logistical and legal concerns, like support for his family and some of Zuma’s legal issues.
  • According to ANC General Secretary Ace Magashule, Zuma will not resign until after the NEC meets on February 17. "We can’t expect any decision before the NEC [meeting]", Magashule said. This contradicts Ramaphosa's comments that the issue would be resolved in a "matter of days."

(Last updated 4:00pm ET, February 9)

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