Parliamentary officials in South Africa have decided to delay a key speech President Jacob Zuma was due to give this week, a dramatic decision emphasising the level of chaos existing between the President and his party, the African National Congress.

South African President Jacob Zuma (Source: CNN)


Zuma was set to give the annual state of the nation address to Parliament on Thursday, but was approached by the likes of Baleka Mbete, Speaker of the National Assembly, to postpone his address to “create room for establishing a much more conducive atmosphere in Parliament”.

The African National Congress (ANC) has struggled to manage the transfer of power from Zuma to his deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa is a multimillionaire businessman who was elected ANC leader in December 2017 and has been South Africa’s deputy president since 2014.

Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa (Source: theglobeandmail)

He is seen as a representative of the party’s reformist faction, and Zuma departing from office before his term expiring in 2019 would allow Ramaphosa to become president in accordance with the constitution. This would enable the ANC to rebrand itself before elections in 2019.

According to Ralph Mathekga, a South African political analyst, the cost of the poor transition is the disruption of the party’s key institutions, especially damaging with next year’s elections in sight. The party’s National Executive Council is split between supporters of Ramaphosa and Zuma, who briefly clashed outside the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg on Monday morning.

According to local media reports, senior ANC leaders met with Zuma last weekend and asked him to step down, something he refused to do. It is very possible that he will be ordered to resign, a significant move that would increase pressure on him, because ANC rules dictate that even elected officials fulfil their functions according to the will of the party.

Another potential scenario would be a negotiated deal allowing Zuma to leave office “voluntarily”, though Ramaphosa has ruled out any formal amnesty or impunity.

Whichever scenario eventually takes place, it will be a welcome end to Zuma’s scandal-hit presidency. Zuma had led the ANC since 2007 and has been South Africa’s president since 2009. His tenure in both posts has been marred by a series of corruption scandals that have undermined the image and legitimacy of the ANC, the revolutionary party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994.

Zuma at a football match with the late Nelson Mandela (Source: Lee Warren/Touchline)

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which promotes the legacy of South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, released a damning statement on Tuesday, calling for Zuma to be ousted as he had “demonstrated” that he was “not fit to govern”.

The foundation said there was “overwhelming evidence that systematic looting by patronage networks linked to President Zuma have betrayed the country Nelson Mandela dreamed of”.