Zuma exit not discussed by South African ruling party, official says

EAST LONDON, South Africa (Reuters) - The new leadership of South Africa’s ruling party did not discuss President Jacob Zuma’s future on Wednesday, an official said, disappointing investors who hoped it would seek to remove him from power.

FILE PHOTO: South Africa's President Jacob Zuma attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in the capital, Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

Zuma’s replacement as party leader by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, last month prompted widespread expectations of an early end to his time in office, which has been marred by persistent allegations of graft.

On Wednesday the rand weakened as much as 1.7 percent to the U.S. dollar after the African National Congress said Zuma’s future was not on the agenda of its one-day leadership meeting. It later recouped some losses.

Since Ramaphosa’s narrow party election win in December the currency has gained 8 percent, driven by hopes he would persuade Zuma to step down from the presidency.

“That matter was not for any discussion or debate,” ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule told reporters in response to a question about whether Zuma’s future was discussed or would be raised at the meeting in the seaside city of East London.

After the meeting ended, a member of the leadership who asked not to be named said the issue had not come up.

Ramaphosa emerged from the beachside conference venue for an impromptu walkabout among vendors selling ANC paraphernalia but he took no questions as he chatted and joked with the hawkers.

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Zuma’s second term as president ends with general elections in 2019, but analysts have said he is increasingly seen as a political liability to the party once headed by the iconic Nelson Mandela.

The ANC’s public support has declined under Zuma’s leadership as voters have become increasingly disillusioned with a raft of corruption scandals, weak economic growth and an unemployment rate that has risen to nearly 28 percent.

Zuma’s sacking last year of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan triggered downgrades of South Africa’s credit rating to junk status, significantly raising borrowing costs for Africa’s most industrialized economy.

It also brought tens of thousands of anti-Zuma protesters onto the streets in nationwide marches.

“The ANC cannot avoid dealing with the future of Jacob Zuma. The leadership know the longer Zuma stays, the more damage it could do at the ballot box,” said Susan Booysen, an author and professor at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Two senior committee members told Reuters Ramaphosa’s faction in the ANC did not want to try to openly oust Zuma since the leadership, or NEC, was only elected a month ago and because Ramaphosa’s victory was marginal.

There could be a less high-profile meeting of the NEC next week where a more serious discussion about Zuma leaving would be held, one of the senior party members said.

“Ramaphosa has to chart a very careful course so he can win broad ANC support and negotiate a dignified exit for Zuma,” independent political analyst Daniel Silke said.

A former trade unionist who was the ANC’s key negotiator in the talks that lead to the end of apartheid, Ramaphosa went on to become a wealthy business tycoon, making him a favorite of both the party’s left wing and the business community.

A smiling Ramaphosa looked at ease when journalists were briefly allowed into the meeting for a photo opportunity. He had earlier been seen jogging on the city’s waterfront.

“This is the time for renewal for the ANC,” said Sidney Nkadimeng, 43, a rank-and-file ANC member from Pretoria who is in East London for the party’s birthday celebrations, which culminate on Saturday.

Additional reporting and writing by Joe Brock; Editing by