Johannesburg: South Africa’s ruling ANC said “fruitful discussions” were held between Jacob Zuma and his deputy, amid reports a deal for the embattled president’s resignation was close.
The Time Lives news service said Zuma had agreed to resign as soon as a list of preconditions were finalised. It was not clear what those conditions would be.
The move came as the ANC’s highest decision-making body on Tuesday postponed a meeting set to take place on Wednesday that could have forced Zuma out of office, after he held the talks with Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy.
Earlier, Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the national assembly, said the ANC had postponed Zuma’s State of the Nation address, saying the decision was taken in the “best interest of parliament and the country”.
The speech was due to take place on Thursday. “We have, regrettably, come to the conclusion that there is little likelihood of an uneventful joint sitting of parliament this coming Thursday,” said Mbete, referring to the “disruption, anarchy and chaos” of past years in which opposition parliamentarians heckled Zuma and were dragged out of the chamber by security guards.
For years Zuma has been fending off allegations of wrongdoing, with scandals swirling around multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home with state money.
Julius Malema, the leader of the radical political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, suggested in an interview this week that, if Zuma went ahead with the state of the union address, he and his colleagues would disrupt the speech.
Insiders say the balance of power within the NEC has changed since Ramaphosa was narrowly elected to the top ANC position last December, and he now appears to have far more support then before.
Zuma said at his birthday party last year that he would step down if asked to do so by ANC members. “If you tell me to step down tomorrow, I will … I will remain an ANC member until I die. Even if you say I must leave, I will leave with a clear heart,” he said.
However, he has since resisted several calls from the ANC to resign. If he does not resign, parliament is expected sack him by a simple majority in a vote of no confidence later this month.
Although several previous votes of no confidence failed against Zuma, the political mood in South Africa has shifted and insiders say most ANC MPs would now vote with opposition parties against him.
Zuma chaired a regular cabinet meeting in parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday and left the building quickly but smiled and waved to the media in the street outside. The influential Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement: “Time is of the essence – Zuma must go”.