Zuma under pressure as state of nation speech postponed

South African president under pressure to step down as ruling African National Congress prepares for elections in 2019.

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    Jacob Zuma has been South Africa's president since 2009 [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]
    Jacob Zuma has been South Africa's president since 2009 [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

    Durban, South Africa -  Jacob Zuma's scheduled State of the Nation Address in parliament has been postponed as pressure grows on him to step down as president of South Africa.

    The announcement on Tuesday comes during a tumultuous week for the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its new party leader in December.

    Since then, a chorus of voices has called on Zuma, whose tenure has been dogged by a litany of corruption allegations, to quit ahead of national elections in 2019.

    It is understood that the ANC's Working Committee had asked for the address, which traditionally marks the opening of parliament, to be postponed until Zuma resigned. 

    "The ANC is in a panic, and they are looking for options," Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera.  

    Earlier on Tuesday, the Nelson Mandela Foundation called on the president to step down, saying South Africa had reached a point where any further time he spent in office would be damaging to the country.

    "Hearings, investigations, enquiries and other forms of disclosure are providing overwhelming evidence that systematic looting by patronage networks linked to President Zuma have betrayed the country Nelson Mandela dreamed of as he took his first steps of freedom twenty-eight years ago," it said in a statement. 

    "President Zuma has abused the trust of South Africans. He must go, sooner rather than later. Time is of the essence." 

    Ramaphosa, who will run for South Africa's presidency in the upcoming elections, has spoken consistently on the need to stamp out corruption.

    However, he has been mindful that his victory at the ANC conference over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairperson of the African Union Commission and the president's ex-wife, was a narrow one.

    Since winning the party presidency, he has spoken about providing Zuma with a dignified exit. 

    'ANC in crisis'

    Later on Wednesday, the ANC postponed a meeting of its highest decision-making body, the National Executive Council (NEC), that had been scheduled for Wednesday in which Zuma's presidency was expected to be discussed.

    The ANC said in a statement that it had held "fruitful and constructive discussions" with Zuma.

    Though the NEC could ask the president to step down, it does not have the constitutional mandate to force him out of office. This can only happen through a no-confidence vote in parliament or impeachment.

    "It is not clear what the party will do," said Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst, had said before the party's statement.

    "Clearly they are meeting because they are in a crisis, but whether they are going to take a decision remains to be seen," he added.

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    Zuma's presidency has been engulfed by corruption scandals. He faces some 783 counts of corruption and has been accused of allowing an Indian-born family, known as the Guptas, to capture the state and exert influence over the government under his watch.

    The president, who has survived several no-confidence votes thanks to the backing of ANC members of parliament, has maintained his innocence.

    Earlier this week, he reportedly told ANC leaders he believed that he still had the support of the party, adding that he had been challenged before and would again survive a potential attempt to have him removed. 

    The State of Nation address is important as it sets the tone for the year, he has no business presenting it.

    Cass Coovadia, FutureSA

    Over the past week, opposition parties and factions within the ANC itself had also called for Zuma to step down before the State of the Nation Address.

    Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said he was not prepared to be addressed by a criminal, in reference to Zuma. 

    On Sunday, a coalition of civil society bodies under the banner of Future South Africa, published an open letter to the ANC urging the party to force him out.

    "Until he [Zuma] is recalled from office, action against state capture will be limited, and talk about eradicating corruption will remain hollow, and somewhat meaningless," the letter read. 

    Cass Coovadia, an anti-apartheid activist and a patron of Future South Africa, told Al Jazeera that ordinary South Africans had lost all confidence in Zuma.

    "The State of Nation Address is important as it sets the tone for the year; he should not be presenting it."

    Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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