Zuma under pressure: South African president set for exit?



Jacob Zuma’s hold on the South African presidency appeared precarious on Wednesday after two key events were postponed amid a power struggle within the African National Congress (ANC).

An ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, at which pressure was expected to be put on Zuma to stand down, was delayed to February 17. Hours earlier, it was announced that Thursday’s state of the nation address had been put off.

South African President Jacob Zuma sits next to Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th National Conference of the ANC in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 16, 2017.

Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded the 75-year-old Zuma as ANC leader in December on an anti-corruption platform and is in pole position to replace him as president. The two men are in talks to ensure a “dignified” transition, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said.

South African website Times Live reported on Tuesday evening that Zuma was ready to stand down if conditions over his departure were met.

Why is Zuma under pressure?

Zuma, who led the ANC from 2007 to 2017 and has been president since 2009, has been dogged by allegations of corruption since before coming to power.

Prosecutors have stepped up investigations into alleged wrongdoing in recent weeks. The 75-year-old has been repeatedly accused of profiting from his relationship with the wealthy Gupta family. Both parties deny allegations of impropriety.

Zuma faces several court cases, including action relating to 783 payments he received allegedly linked to an arms deal in the 1990s. He was also found to have used government money on refurbishments to his private home, but repaid the money after a long fight.

The president has been damaged by the slowdown in South Africa’s economy and high unemployment. Zuma was politically weakened when Ramaphosa beat the president's’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the ANC leadership.

What are the options?


Zuma met with the ANC top six – split between Zuma and Ramaphosa supporters-on Sunday, but reportedly refused to stand down. Reports in South African media on Tuesday evening suggested the president is ready to resign “as soon as a list of preconditions has been finalized.” Ramaphosa was elected as the anti-corruption candidate, so the terms he is willing to agree to will be closely watched. If Zuma resigned, Ramaphosa would automatically replace him as South African president.


The ANC National Executive Committee – made up of senior ANC figures – has the power to order Zuma to step down, but the president could resist the move. In such a scenario, a no-confidence vote could be put forward in parliament.

No-confidence vote

A no-confidence vote, called by opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters, has been scheduled for February 22. ANC lawmakers could bring forward their own motion in parliament. Zuma has survived attempts to oust him in the past, but several ANC members voted with the opposition on a similar measure in August.


The opposition Democratic Alliance party has threatened to start impeachment proceedings against Zuma if the ANC does not remove him within a week. “The ANC is in complete turmoil and being held to ransom by Jacob Zuma,” Mmusi Maimane, the Democratic Alliance leader, said. “One thing we cannot postpone is removing Jacob Zuma and electing a new president. This must be done in the next week.”

Stay in office

Zuma could resist pressure to stand down and stay in office until the 2019 election, although doing so would risk further splits in the ANC ahead of the vote. He still has allies within the party, but the pressure on him to give the ANC time to regroup before next year's poll is intense.