South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday defied an ultimatum from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to resign within 48 hours, pitching the nation into an unprecedented political crisis.
The decision to ask Zuma to stand down or face being stripped of his office was taken at a specially convened emergency session of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) near Pretoria, the administrative capital, late Monday night, according to reports.
The meeting was called after it became clear over that nearly five days of talks between Zuma, who has been the President since 2009, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the ANC's leadership in December, had failed.
After nearly 10 hours of heated debate, Ramaphosa and a key ally of Zuma left the meeting to drive to the President's official residence to deliver an ultimatum: stand down or face "recall", a technical term for the process of forcing an ANC official to leave their post.
If Zuma is ousted by a no-confidence vote, the speaker of parliament will serve as an interim President until elected representatives chose a new head of state.
However a "defiant" Zuma demanded a three-month "notice period" before resigning, an ANC official told the Guardian. This was rejected by the NEC.
A press conference has been announced at the ANC headquarters here later on Tuesday.
Zuma headed the ANC, the party that led South Africans to freedom from apartheid in 1994, from December 2007 to December 2017.
Zuma’s nine years as President of South African has been marred by allegations of massive corruption and this has undermined the image and legitimacy of ANC.
“Evidence of Zuma’s corruption is scattered in government offices and has been broadcast through the television and print media. It is impossible to doubt the corruption. Men who carried envelopes to Zuma are now in prison. The woman who accused Zuma of rape is now dead,” notes Vijay Prasad, journalist and political expert. “
There are ghosts all around him. Zuma stands unscathed. His reputation amongst the elites is muddy. But it seems to have no impact on sections of the country.”
However, the 75-year-old retains significant support inside the party and at a local level in many parts of South Africa, the Guardian reported.
Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author, said: "Zuma is not just a person. He is a system. There are a whole lot of people whose politics fortunes are tied to his.
"We are watching a battle for the soul of the ANC. It's a referendum on the true balance of power within the party."
(with inputs from IANS)