JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party on Tuesday put off a key meeting due to discuss President Jacob Zuma’s future later this week, while an online news service quoted sources saying he was ready to quit if certain conditions were met.
The ANC had called a special meeting of its executive committee for Wednesday in Cape Town, heralding what could be a new bid to unseat the 75-year-old president who is beset by corruption allegations and damaged by decline in the economy.
Zuma has been in a weakened position since he was replaced as leader of the ANC by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in December. Zuma no longer holds a top position in the party.
But the scheduled meeting of the National Executive Committee, which has the power to demand that Zuma step down, was suddenly moved to the weekend of Feb. 17.
The party has faced uncertainty over how its dual power structure will function, after Ramaphosa took the reins of the party with Zuma remaining as head of state. Zuma’s tenure officially runs until mid-2019.
Party secretary-general Ace Magashule said Wednesday’s meeting had been put back to allow the two men to keep talking constructively on a transition.
Then, Times Live, an online news service, issued a report citing sources saying Zuma would resign as soon as a list of preconditions has been finalised in a deal struck with Ramaphosa.
Magashule, who attended the meeting between the two leaders, would not confirm whether Zuma had agreed to resign, although other ANC leaders said the agreed deal would see Zuma “go in a dignified way”, Times Live said.
ANC officials could not be reached for comment.
Zuma has been South Africa’s most controversial president since the end of white minority rule in 1994, enwrapped in scandal during a tumultuous nine years in power.
He has faced several allegations of corruption. Some within the ANC and the opposition say the Gupta family, friends of Zuma, have used their links with the president to win work with the state. The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.
He waved to reporters after meeting Ramaphosa at the president’s office in Cape Town, where the president also chaired routine meetings, his spokesman said.
In a statement, the presidency denied claims by the South African Communist Party, a key ally of the ruling party, that Zuma was preparing to fire Ramaphosa as deputy president and replace him with ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
The ANC had earlier heavily flagged Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of its leaders by saying they would decide a “matter of serious concern.”
Facing a no-confidence motion in parliament set for Feb. 22, Zuma has survived several attempts to oust him in the past. But this time around a significant part of the ANC wants him to step down well before his second term ends mid next year.
“A vote of no-confidence is not desirable, under any circumstances,” ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte told a news conference that senior party officials said.
“Our most important consideration is that we don’t believe South Africa should wish for us to embarrass the president of the republic, in any way whatsoever,” she said.
The speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, postponed Zuma’s speech due on Thursday though she said a new date would be fixed very soon.
The opposition parties had demanded that the speech be postponed until Zuma was removed from the leadership.
The rand, which has tended to strengthen on signs that Zuma could step down before his second term as president ends next year, was firmer on Tuesday.
The ANC’s top six most powerful officials met Zuma late on Sunday at his official residence in Pretoria. There was no announcement of the outcome though sources said he had refused a demand to go.
Zuma has also resisted a call to go by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, the influential head of South Africa’s biggest ethnic group in the president’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, according to BusinessDay newspaper.
The influential Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement “time is of the essence - Zuma must go”. Leader of the official opposition and head of the Democratic Alliance party Mmusi Maimane said in a statement: “We need a new beginning.”
Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Richard Balmforth