South Africa’s state of the nation address, due to be delivered by President Jacob Zuma in two days, was postponed Tuesday as questions hang over the embattled leader’s future.
The delay comes as the highest body of South Africa’s ruling party set to urgently meet Wednesday. Speculation is rife that the scandal-plagued president may be forced to resign.
Six of the ANC top brass met to discuss the issue on Sunday, and on Wednesday the National Executive Committee (NEC) – the only body with the power to “recall” the president – will convene.
“What we’re hoping for is that the NEC will emerge with a united view on this matter,” ANC deputy secretary-general Jesse Duarte told reporters.
South Africa’s opposition parties and some within the ANC had said Zuma should not be allowed to give the annual address while talks around his possible exit continue.
Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete said that parliament had “looked realistically at developments that had taken place in the past week” when deciding to postpone the speech. She said a new date will be announced soon.
“There is no prospect of a productive SONA (state of the nation address) … Insisting on SONA for Thursday would serve no purpose,” said high-ranking ANC official Thandi Modise.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthemba welcomed the decision saying: “It is in the best interest of our country.”
Since the election of reformer Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader in December there are now essentially two centres of power in South Africa. Many see Zuma as a lame duck president.
The opposition had called for a vote of no confidence in parliament on February 22, but it appears the ANC want to handle the matter themselves through the NEC.
“The NEC has the right to discuss a recall … in my experience we have not met with an employee who says ‘I refuse,'” deputy secretary-general Duarte said.
There have been reports that Zuma – who faces hundreds of allegations of corruption from his two terms in office and possible jail time – is digging in his heels and refusing to step down.
“Once the NEC has made a decision, no one will contradict that decision,” Duarte said.
Former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki tendered his resignation after being recalled by the NEC in 2008.
Many in the party want to see businessman and deputy president Ramaphosa replace Zuma, who has badly tarnished the reputation of the party once synonymous with Nelson Mandela.
Zuma is accused of allowing “state capture” by a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, who were granted lucrative business deals and possibly even influenced ministerial appointments.
In a strongly-worded statement the Nelson Mandela Foundation said Tuesday that Zuma “must go, sooner rather than later.”
“He must go because he has demonstrated that he is not fit to govern. We call on the state to hold him accountable for his actions,” it said.
“Some things cannot be pardoned.”