A day after his own party urged him to resign, South African President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday condemned the decision, insisted he had done nothing wrong and warned that leaving the presidency would divide his party and could lead to violence.
“What is the rush? I have been asking this question all the time. You can’t force a decision as is being done now,” he told SABC television in a lengthy interview.
Zuma condemned Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for moving against him, saying Ramaphosa reneged on an agreement to allow Zuma several more months in power.
The president has been under increasing pressure to resign after Ramaphosa narrowly won the presidency of the African National Congress at a national conference in December. Zuma’s term as national president is not due to end until elections in 2019, but Ramaphosa and his supporters are determined to oust Zuma swiftly.
Zuma said the ANC’s leadership demand he resign was unfair: He said he asked leaders what he had done wrong and never got an answer.
“The problem is nobody has provided to me what have I done. There’s nothing I have done wrong. What’s the problem? I don’t understand,” Zuma said.
He said he told ANC leaders: “I have a problem with your approach and decision. I don’t think it is fair. It’s the first time I feel a decision is not right. I said to them I disagree with the decision you are taking.”
In a news conference a day earlier, party Secretary General Ace Magashule said Zuma had done nothing wrong but was being removed for procedural reasons, to avoid having “two centers of power” in the country.
Zuma dismissed this concern, saying the ANC never provided that a new party president should immediately become president of the country.
Earlier Wednesday, Zuma canceled a morning news conference at which he had widely been expected to step down. He told the SABC he would make a statement on the matter later Wednesday.
Soon after the cancellation of the news conference, ANC leaders said the party’s lawmakers would topple Zuma via Parliament by voting on a motion of no confidence Thursday. Such a vote would be filled with irony because the ANC has protected Zuma in successive parliamentary no-confidence votes, including one as recently as August.
The ANC national executive committee resolved to recall Zuma on Monday after his nearly nine years of governance tainted by corruption scandals and accusations that he allowed a powerful business family — the Guptas — sweeping influence in order to advance their business interests.
Zuma pleaded with the national executive committee to give him three to six months more in power, a request rejected by the committee. Zuma’s cancellation of the Wednesday news conference shocked party members, triggering the party’s plan to use its majority in Parliament to oust him, with the support of opposition parties.
In the SABC television interview, Zuma accused Ramaphosa of ignoring ANC policy on leadership transitions. He played heavily on his long history in the party and his understanding of party procedures, in comments calculated to embarrass Ramaphosa.
“It’s the first time that I feel the leadership is unfair. It’s, ‘No, you must just go.’ The ANC does not run things that way,” he said.
The planned parliamentary no-confidence motion — a process normally accompanied by lengthy parliamentary speeches of condemnation by opposition figures — also threatens to embarrass the ANC.
A no-confidence vote, if successful, would also see the deputy president and entire Cabinet removed along with Zuma. Ramaphosa would almost immediately be voted in to succeed Zuma by the ANC parliamentary caucus, before a parliamentary vote.
In a sign Wednesday of the shifting political winds, the police anti-corruption unit, the Hawks, raided the home of Zuma’s close friends, the powerful Gupta family. Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma was in business with the family, while two other Zuma family members worked for them at various times.
The Hawks confirmed three arrests had been made and said two other people had agreed to hand themselves over to police.
The arrests related to a dairy farm project in the Free State which was supposed to direct money to poor black South Africans. Instead, almost all the money is alleged to have been siphoned off to pay for a Gupta family wedding.