South Africa's ANC says deciding whether to remove Zuma as president

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is in the process of deciding whether to cut short President Jacob Zuma’s tenure as head of state, the party’s secretary general told a news conference on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: South Africa's President Jacob Zuma gestures during the last day of the six-day meeting of the African National Congress 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, South Africa, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

The announcement is a fresh blow to Zuma who has seen his power within the party wane since Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded him as ANC leader at an election last month, putting the deputy president in pole position to become national leader.

Zuma has ruled since 2009 and is due to step down after elections next year but senior ANC leaders say Ramaphosa wants him out before that and Ramaphosa himself has said the question of the president’s tenure would be addressed.

“We have not arrived at the decision that Zuma must go, or Zuma must not go,” ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule told a news conference on the outcome of a four-day ANC meeting that ended on Sunday.

“Officials were seized with this matter and officials will remain seized with this matter,” he said, adding that Ramaphosa would “continuously interact” with Zuma over his future as president.

Zuma could be removed through a motion of no confidence in parliament or by the ANC’s National Executive Committee. There was no immediate comment from Zuma’s spokesman.

Zuma’s departure would make it easier for Ramaphosa to revitalize the economy and tackle corruption.

It could also boost the party’s electoral chances next year because it would no longer be so closely associated with Zuma’s legacy. The ANC has held power since it won an election at the end of apartheid in 1994, but it now faces a revitalized opposition and could be set for a tough battle next year.

Economic growth has slowed to a near-standstill under Zuma’s leadership and his tenure has been tainted by a series of corruption accusations, which he denies. Ramaphosa campaigned for ANC leader on a pledge to tackle government corruption.

Financial markets have warmed to Ramaphosa’s pledges to kick-start economic growth and root out corruption, with the rand hitting a new 2-1/2 year high on Monday on hopes that Zuma will leave power soon.

Zuma still retains the support of a faction within the ANC, but several prominent allies have deserted him since December.

Authorities said last week they had been granted authority to freeze millions of dollars worth of assets belonging to companies controlled by the Gupta brothers, who are friends of Zuma’s.

The decision is part of a judicial campaign against corruption but is also seen as damaging to Zuma because of his association with the Guptas.

Ramaphosa is this week leading South Africa’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Zuma is in a corner and neutralized,” said Professor Susan Booysen at Wits University’s School of Governance. “When Ramaphosa returns from Davos I think he will be able to dictate terms to Zuma about his exit.”

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg