South Africa has been pitched into an unprecedented political crisis after the ruling ANC party admitted that President Jacob Zuma had defied its orders to resign and that it had little idea of when the 75-year-old head of state would respond to its demand to leave office.
The decision to tell Zuma, who faces multiple charges of corruption, to stand down was taken at an emergency session of the highest decision-making body of the African National Congress near Pretoria, the administrative capital, late on Monday evening, and conveyed to the president about midnight.
The recall does not remove Zuma from office, but it does corner him. If he doesn’t resign, he will face a vote of no confidence in Parliament, which he will no doubt lose without his party’s support.
The magnitude of corruption allegations against Zuma is astounding. He faces more than 780 allegations relating to a 1990s arms deal alone.
But the reason his demise is now on the horizon is a matter of party survival. Under Zuma, the ANC’s popularity has been annihilated; the party suffered huge losses in municipal elections in 2016. It even lost control of key areas in the party’s heartland to the opposition Democratic Alliance.
The ANC had previously supported Zuma, now 75, through several periods of scandal. But with the 2019 general election looming, getting rid of the President as soon as possible gives the ANC a chance to reinvigorate its once-proud image with South African voters.
The ANC has led South Africa since Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994, after the gradual end of apartheid.