South African president Jacob Zuma appeared to move a step closer to resignation on Wednesday as he held a second day of crunch talks with Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy and rival for the country’s top job.
Mr Ramaphosa said the discussions, which began late on Tuesday, “lay the basis for a speedy resolution of the matter in the interests of the country”.
“This is a challenging time for our country. Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure,” Mr Ramaphosa said in a statement. “The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division.”
He added that once they had concluded their discussions, he and Mr Zuma would report back to the ANC and the country “in the coming days”.
The talks between Mr Zuma and Mr Ramaphosa in Cape Town came after the ANC postponed an emergency meeting of its national executive committee that was to be held on Wednesday. The move hinted that the rivals were closer to reaching a deal after a week of turmoil in the party during which Mr Zuma has resisted calls from its leadership to step down.
The NEC meeting has been postponed to February 17. Ace Magashule, the ANC secretary-general, told local media on Tuesday that Mr Ramaphosa could present a deal with Mr Zuma at the next NEC meeting.
“By the NEC meeting next week, we’ll see the inevitable end of Zuma,” said Darias Jonker, Africa director of Eurasia Group. “If he continues to refuse, a motion of no confidence in parliament is likely to be the lever the ANC will use to remove him.”
Parliament this week took the unprecedented decision to postpone the president’s annual state of the nation address on Thursday as the crisis in the ANC deepened.
Mr Zuma has dominated the party for a decade, but his influence has dramatically waned since Mr Ramaphosa defeated his preferred candidate to take over as leader of the ANC last month.
Mr Ramaphosa’s supporters have pushed for Mr Zuma to resign immediately so that a new leadership can begin restoring confidence in Africa’s most industrialised nation and prepare for 2019 elections at which the ANC’s grip on power is expected to come under severe threat.
Mr Zuma has been dogged by corruption scandals since he took office in 2009. Under his watch, the economy has stagnated, rating agencies have downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk and the ANC has suffered its worst election performances as its support has plummeted.
Mr Ramaphosa, a former union leader who became one of the country’s wealthiest black businessmen, has pledged to root out graft and enjoys strong support from the country’s corporate sector. But he has inherited a party that is blighted by deep divisions that have been exacerbated by the leadership battle.
If Mr Zuma were ousted, it would be the second time in a decade that the ANC has changed presidents in the middle of a term. Thabo Mbeki, the former president, was forced to step down in 2008, months after he lost a party leadership contest with Mr Zuma. That battle led to supporters of Mr Mbeki breaking away from the ANC and forming their own party.
Mr Zuma is a ruthless political survivor and analysts say he is keen to leave office on his own terms and avoid the risk of prosecution.
State prosecutors have this month accelerated investigations into alleged graft under Mr Zuma’s rule, including into the role played by the Gupta business family.
The Guptas are accused of using their friendship with the president to influence political appointments and win state contracts. Mr Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
The president also has 783 money-laundering and corruption counts hanging over him that are related to a 1990s arms deal.