Cyril Ramaphosa admitted on Sunday to “disunity and discord” in the ruling ANC party as the deadlocked effort to oust scandal-tainted President Jacob Zuma grinds on.
Ramaphosa said he wanted to replace “a period of difficulty, disunity and discord” with “a new beginning” for the party, and he vowed to tackle corruption that has tarnished Zuma’s governance.
With Zuma refusing a party request to resign, the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) will meet on Monday.
The NEC could recall the president from office, though he would be under no constitutional obligation to obey the order.
Ramaphosa told an ANC rally in Cape Town that the meeting would “finalise” the matter, but he gave no further details.
“We know you want closure – we will be doing so keeping our eyes on what is in the interests of all our people,” he said to loud applause.
Zuma has clung to power after rejecting a request by his party’s senior officials to resign a week ago.
Several thousand ANC supporters wearing the party’s signature yellow, green and black colours attended the rally at the symbolic Grand Parade in central Cape Town.
On the same day in 1990, Nelson Mandela spoke to euphoric crowds who filled the packed public square in front of City Hall, hours after his release from prison.
It was his first speech as free man, and a key moment in South Africa’s modern re-birth as apartheid white-minority rule crumbled.
Holding the microphone for Mandela that day was a young Ramaphosa, then a trade union leader.
Zuma’s presidency has been marred by corruption scandals, slow economic growth and record unemployment that have fuelled public anger in sharp contrast to national optimism after Mandela’s release.
The stalemate over Zuma’s departure has left the country in limbo, with a series of public events cancelled last week including Thursday’s State of the Nation address (SONA) to parliament.
Dispute over exit deal?
Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his chosen successor – his former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – narrowly lost out to Ramaphosa in a vote to be the new party leader.
“We are in a very difficult space, and there’s no doubt it requires a great deal of courage and moral strength to pass this moment,” ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said on Sunday.
The rally was part of ANC celebrations marking 100 years since Mandela’s birth – as well as efforts by Ramaphosa to try to revive the party’s tainted reputation ahead of next year’s general election.
One of the key sticking points in the negotiations was the potentially huge legal fees Zuma is facing from prolonged court battles against multiple criminal cases.
One case relates to 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering linked to a controversial arms deal before he came to power.
He is also reportedly seeking legal protection for his family and other associates who have been involved in controversial deals.
“Even if the ANC meeting on Monday decides Zuma needs to step down, he can still refuse because they have no legal authority,” Mcebisi Ndletyana, politics professor at University of Johannesburg, told AFP.
“He is not willing to step down voluntarily. They need to close this thing early this week.”
Opposition parties are calling for a parliamentary vote of no-confidence within days.
The ANC has insisted there will be no delay to the budget, which is on February 21.
Zuma has not spoken since being asked to resign by senior ANC officials on February 4.
In 2008, the party pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki over allegations of abuse of power.
Under Zuma, the ANC suffered its worst electoral setback since coming to power under Mandela in 1994, winning less than 54% of the vote in local government elections in 2016.
© Agence France-Presse