The impending departure of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa was expected following the defeat of his preferred candidate in the African National Congress’s (ANC) elections for party leader. A Council Expert’s Brief provides an analysis of Zuma’s departure from office and the way forward for the ANC. In the meantime, readers may find helpful an updated chronology and primer as the drama continues to unfold.
Note that the ANC’s highest decision-making body is the National Executive Committee (NEC), which numbers 107. It strives to make decisions by consensus rather than by majority votes. When the NEC is not sitting, party affairs are in the hands of the National Working Committee (NWC). The Top Six, the senior-most party leaders including the party’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is part of the NEC and the NWC. It normally handles day-to-day party business. The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is, like a U.S. president’s state of the union address, a major South African parliamentary calendar event. It precedes the president’s presentation of the budget, which is scheduled for February 21.
The timeline indicates that the ANC “recalled” Zuma (directed him to resign the presidency) on February 13, and that he has refused. Now he faces a vote of no-confidence in parliament or possible impeachment. Resignation is a more dignified exit from the presidency than recall or losing a no-confidence vote. Impeachment would imply criminal behavior and strip Zuma of his pension rights. It has become clear that, while Zuma may have agreed to resign in principal as early as February 6, he requested to remain in office for another three to six months. This was refused, resulting in the present stand-off.
Thursday, February 1
- Speaker of the House Baleka Mbete insists that SONA will go ahead as planned on February 7, in response to speculation that the speech would be postponed to allow President Zuma to resign the presidency.
Friday, February 2
- At the request of Julius Malema, head of the left-wing 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.
- The opposition parties make a united call that “anyone but Zuma” should deliver the SONA.
Sunday, February 4
- The Top Six meets with Zuma to pressure him to resign. He refuses.
Monday, February 5
- The NWC meets at ANC party headquarters, Luthuli house, in Johannesburg. The press speculates that the NWC was preparing for a NEC meeting which would recall Zuma from the presidency.
Tuesday, February 6
- Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete postpones the SONA, contrary to what she said on February 1, citing numerous, unspecified “threats to the event.” EFF leader Malema tweets, “[Zuma] will resign anytime from now.”
- Democratic Alliance (center-right opposition) leader Mmusi Maimane demands that Zuma be impeached.
- Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, and party secretary general Ace Magashule meet at Genadendal, the president’s official Cape Town residence. According to the media, Zuma agrees to resign as soon as a list of unspecified preconditions have been finalized. Further, the two agree to postpone the NEC meeting scheduled for the next day until February 17.
Wednesday, February 7
- Ramaphosa and Zuma attend “routine Cabinet Committees [sic] meetings in Cape Town.”
- Ramaphosa tweets confirmation that they discussed Zuma’s eventual departure. 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 the EFF’s proposed motion of a parliamentary vote 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.
Thursday, February 8
- According to anonymous reports from MPs who attended a February 8 ANC caucus meeting, Ramaphosa promised 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 specifically that it was a matter of days before Zuma “goes.”
Friday, February 9
- Ramaphosa, followed later by members of the Top Six, pulls out of a scheduled public event scheduled for the day to focus on “pressing matters.”
- The Top Six is scheduled to meet on Saturday, February 10.
Monday, February 12
- The NEC holds a meeting regarding the fate of Zuma. It is reported that he agreed to step down, but the details are unclear. It later emerges that Zuma had agreed to go unconditionally after three or six months
- Opposition leaders hold a joint press conference, renewing calls to hold the motion of no confidence. They also called for the dissolution of parliament and national elections, which are currently scheduled for 2019, to be held early.
- After a nine hour meeting of the NEC, Ramaphosa and Magashule drive to Zuma’s office around midnight and reportedly deliver an ultimatum: resign in forty-eight hours or face a recall. The pair then returns to the NEC meeting. The meeting eventually adjourned at 3:00 a.m. February 13. It later emerges that Ramaphosa and Magashule tried to convince Zuma to reduce the time frame he provided, but that the attempt failed.
Tuesday, February 13
- ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte personally deliver the recall letter to Zuma at his official residence in Pretoria.
- In a press conference, the Magashule announces that the ANC’s NEC has formally asked Zuma to resign, but does not give a deadline, instead saying that they gave him “time and space” to make his decision. During the press conference, Magashule says, “We did not take these decisions because Comrade Jacob Zuma has done anything wrong.” He added, “It is obvious that we want Comrade Ramaphosa to come in as the president of South Africa. We respect him.” He also added, “There is no need to…humiliate [Zuma].”
- The ANC releases a statement on the recall, detailing Zuma’s proposal to resign in three to six months and the ANC’s efforts to shorten the timeframe, which Zuma refused.
- Zuma reportedly refuses the ANC’s recall.
The drama’s next act will be a parliamentary no-confidence vote, unless Zuma changes his mind and resigns in the meantime.
(Last updated 2:30pm ET, February 13)