Jacob Zuma’s premiership appears to be nearing the end as his deputy and expected successor said he anticipated a “speedy resolution” to transition talks with the South African president.
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged “a lot of speculation and anxiety” about the status of the president, who has been under intense pressure to quit amid a series of corruption allegations.
Mr Ramaphosa said he and Mr Zuma will finish their discussions and report in the coming days to the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) and the wider population of one of Africa’s biggest economies.
The deputy president and current ANC leader said: “This is a challenging time for our country.
Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure. The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division.”
The announcement followed several disputed reports that reflected a growing mood of uncertainty over the long wait for a resolution to the country’s leadership crisis.
Mr Zuma’s office described a social media report that Russian president Vladimir Putin was going to visit the country this week as “fake news”. It also denied allegations by opponents that Mr Zuma was preparing to sack Mr Ramaphosa. The president’s planned state of the nation address in the South African parliament was postponed earlier in the week.
More information about Mr Zuma’s status as president will be available once “all pertinent matters” have been finalised, said Mr Ramaphosa, who took over from his boss as party leader in December and has since delivered strong anti-corruption messages.
Many former supporters who have turned against Mr Zuma worry that he is digging in, or at least trying to make a deal – possibly including immunity from prosecution – in exchange for his resignation.
South African opposition parties said the country is in “limbo” as the ANC struggles to resolve its internal conflict over Mr Zuma, and that there are now two centres of power in the ruling party and in the government.
Opposition leaders will meet on Monday to discuss a scheduled motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma on February 22 as well as parliament’s mandate to elect a new president in the event Mr Zuma is removed.
Jacob Zuma has been embroiled in scandals for years. He had to pay back some state money following multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home.
He was also criticised for his association with the Gupta business family, which was accused of looting state enterprises and influencing cabinet ministers for their own benefit. There is also the possibility of reinstated corruption charges tied to an arms deal from two decades ago. Mr Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
The president’s second five-year term is scheduled to end with elections in 2019, but many ruling party members want Mr Ramaphosa to take over as soon as possible so that the party can try to recover the trust of voters.