South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday looked to have survived an attempted ousting after days of fierce debate within the ruling ANC party as several ministers called on him to resign. Zuma has been weakened by a series of scandals but the manoeuvre to oust him took many by surprise in the African National Congress, which has held power since 1994.
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A weekend meeting of the party’s executive was extended late on Monday after a rebellion led by senior government figures, including at least four ministers.
Local media said the meeting was tense, with tempers flaring and some ministers threatening to resign if Zuma stayed.
But the president headed off the most serious threat to his hold on power since he came to office in 2009.
He left South Africa early on Tuesday to attend the funeral of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“The president told us that he will never step down, as it would be like handing himself over to the enemy, and that there are people who want to see him in jail,” an unnamed source at the closed-door meeting told the News24 website.
It said Zuma’s loyalists had rallied strongly to his defence during on Monday’s sessions.
The ANC announced it would hold a press conference at 2:00 pm (local time) on the meeting’s outcome.
The president has been hit by multiple corruption allegations and damaging court rulings this year, while the ANC suffered a serious setback in local polls in August and unemployment has hit a 13-year high.
Zuma has been under renewed pressure since a corruption probe earlier this month unearthed fresh allegations of misconduct.
The probe by the country’s top watchdog uncovered evidence of possible criminal activity in his relationship with the Guptas, a business family accused of wielding undue political influence.
However Zuma, 74, retains strong loyalty among many rank-and-file ANC party members, as well as its lawmakers.
He easily survived a vote of no confidence in parliament on November 10.
“Zuma will only leave when the patronage faction around him decide it is time. I think that is still true,” Peter Montalto, analyst from Nomura bank, said in a briefing note.
“The ANC may well be tired of Zuma but it’s not clear it is ready to conclude anything on succession yet.”
Zuma is due to stand down in 2019 after serving the maximum two terms.
Among his possible successors are his ex-wife, African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.
Many of Zuma’s supporters reportedly rushed back by plane to the ANC meeting at a hotel outside Pretoria after missing proceedings to attend a wedding near Cape Town on Saturday.