South African President Jacob Zuma has clung to power through scandal after scandal and repeated attempts by opposition parties to remove him. Now his own party has had enough. Zuma relinquished control of the ruling African National Congress to his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa in December, and the party’s top decision-making panel has decided that he must transfer state power to a new leader. So far Zuma has refused to go.

1. Why did Zuma lose his political clout?

The balance of power within the ANC’s National Executive Committee shifted when Ramaphosa beat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and favored successor, in the party leadership election. On Feb. 12, the panel agreed to “recall” Zuma as president, just as it did in 2008 with Thabo Mbeki. If Zuma refuses to resign, the party could use its 62 percent majority in parliament to force him from office, a move that opposition parties will support.

2. How is Zuma’s exit likely to unfold?

If Zuma, 75, does back down, he’d submit his resignation to the speaker of the National Assembly, which elected him. That would leave Ramaphosa to take over as acting president, and the 400-member chamber would have to vote for a permanent replacement within 30 days or general elections would have to be called. If he refuses to go, the ANC would probably instruct its lawmakers to pass a motion of no confidence in him, which would require a simple majority to pass. In that case, the entire cabinet would have to resign and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete would become acting president until the chamber elects a replacement.

3. Why is Zuma playing hard-ball?

The ANC’s six top leaders has been trying to persuade Zuma to step down since Jan. 30, to no avail. While the sticking points in the negotiations haven’t been made public, Zuma may be seeking immunity from prosecution on graft charges -- an option Ramaphosa has told lawmakers isn’t on the table because it wouldn’t be legal. Local newspapers have reported that Zuma wants to stay in office for several more months and his successor to refrain from making changes to the cabinet. Such demands would probably be unacceptable to the ANC’s new leadership.

4. Who is most likely to succeed Zuma?

As the leader of the ruling party, Ramaphosa appears to be a shoo-in for the post. While the ANC appointed Kgalema Motlanthe as caretaker president when Mbeki stood down in 2008, then ANC leader Zuma wasn’t eligible to be appointed to the post because he wasn’t a member of the National Assembly, and only took office after the 2009 elections. That limitation doesn’t apply to Ramaphosa, who could become president now and still serve two full five-year terms after national elections that are due to take place around mid-2019.

5. Why’s the ANC doing this now?

Zuma’s nine-year tenure has alienated many die-hard ANC supporters and contributed to the party losing control of several cities in the 2016 municipal elections, including Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital. A speedy departure for Zuma would give Ramaphosa time to show he’s committed to meeting his pledges to clamp down on corruption, create jobs and revive the struggling economy before the national vote. Ramaphosa and Zuma are from two opposing factions in the ANC, and the new president will is likely to remove Zuma’s loyalists, including Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Des van Rooyen, the local government minister, from the cabinet. Conversely, a slow and messy exit for Zuma could seriously undermine the ANC’s campaign.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Maier at, Ana Monteiro, Anne Cronin

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