February 9, 2018 / 7:27 AM / in 3 months

South Africa's Ramaphosa targets 'pressing matters' in push for Zuma exit

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - African National Congress (ANC) leader Cyril Ramaphosa pulled out of public events to focus on “pressing matters” on Friday, fuelling speculation that Ramaphosa was making a final push to force Jacob Zuma to step down as South Africa’s head of state.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, are seen attending Cabinet Committee meetings in this government handout picture in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. GCIS/Handout via REUTERS

Zuma, in power since 2009 and battling corruption allegations, has been living on borrowed time since Ramaphosa replaced him as leader of the ruling party in December.

Ramaphosa and members of the ANC’s ‘Top Six’ most powerful officials had been due to visit Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and supporters at various events in Cape Town. But an ANC spokesman said they would not participate in those events due to “other pressing matters”.

An ANC official in the Western Cape province said the schedule changes related to the party’s push to force Zuma to stand down.

“We all know and anticipate that they are dealing with the current issue that is facing our country,” Faiez Jacobs, the party’s provincial secretary, told eNCA television.

Ramaphosa, 65, has been lobbying for Zuma to resign and has said he hopes to conclude talks with him over a transition of power “in coming days...in the interests of the country.”

A spokesman for Ramaphosa, who also serves as South Africa’s deputy president, said the ANC leader no longer had any public engagements on Friday or Saturday. He said Ramaphosa had returned Gauteng province, where the ANC’s headquarters is located in the country’s commercial capital Johannesburg.

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa leaves Tuynhuys, the office of the Presidency at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Zuma’s spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The rand, which has tended to strengthen on signs that Zuma could step down before his second term as president ends next year, rose on Friday as investors increased bets that Ramaphosa would be able to unseat the embattled president.

Zuma’s wife Tobeka Madiba-Zuma posted a picture on her Instagram account, @firstladytzuma, showing her and the president inside what appears to be a plane. It is not clear when the picture was taken.

“My everyday crush,” she says referring to Zuma. “It’s going to be ugly. Don’t fight someone who is not fighting you.”

Replying to a follower who asks whether it will be ugly, she writes that her husband did not alternate “between the struggle and wealth accumulation ... He will finish what he started because he does not take orders beyond the Atlantic Ocean.”

South African President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, are seen attending Cabinet Committee meetings in this government handout picture in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. GCIS/Handout via REUTERS

Unlike Zuma, Ramaphosa was not driven into exile for opposing apartheid, which some of the party’s more hardline members hold against him.

After missing out on becoming Nelson Mandela’s deputy when the anti-apartheid icon swept to power in 1994, Ramaphosa withdrew from politics, switching focus to business. When Ramaphosa sold off his business in 2014 and returned to politics, he became one of South Africa’s 20 richest people.

CONTROVERSIAL ZUMA

Ramaphosa is due to give a speech on Sunday as part of year-long celebrations to mark 100 years since the birth of Mandela.

Zuma had been due to officiate at a diplomatic awards ceremony in Cape Town on Saturday, according to his office, but that event has been postponed.

Zuma has been South Africa’s most controversial president since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, overseeing a tumultuous nine years marked by economic decline and numerous allegations of corruption.

Zuma has not said whether he will resign voluntarily before his second term as president ends mid next year.

He still retains the support of a faction within the ANC but has seen several prominent party allies desert him recently.

He is still fighting nearly 800 counts of corruption over an arms deal from the late 1990s and his ties with the Gupta brothers, a family of wealthy Indian-born businessmen, are the subject of a judicial inquiry on grand-level corruption.

The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.

Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia

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