South African President Jacob Zuma clung to power through scandal after scandal and repeated attempts by opposition parties to remove him. He finally quit on Feb. 14 under threat of being voted out by the ruling African National Congress. Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as the party’s new leader on Dec. 18 set the stage for state power to change hands more than a year before Zuma’s second term was due to end.
1. How did Zuma lose his political clout?
The balance of power within the ANC’s all-powerful National Executive Committee shifted when Ramaphosa beat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and favored successor, in the party leadership election. The new six top leaders have been trying to persuade Zuma to step down since Jan. 30, to no avail.
2. What finally forced Zuma out?
On Feb. 12, the national executive agreed to “recall” Zuma as president, just as it did in 2008 with Thabo Mbeki. On Feb. 14, the ANC’s parliamentary caucus said it would use its 62 percent majority in parliament to force him from office if he didn’t go of his own accord. Zuma insisted that afternoon he’d done nothing wrong and told the state broadcaster he’d offered to step down voluntarily in a few months’ time to ensure a smooth handover. The ANC said its decision was final and Zuma announced his resignation hours later in a televised address.
3. What happens next?
Ramaphosa automatically takes over as acting president and the 400-member National Assembly will have to vote for a permanent replacement within 30 days or general elections will have to be called. Lawmakers will probably choose the new president at a Feb. 16 sitting, according to parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete. Ramaphosa, a lawyer and one the richest black South Africans, appears to be a shoo-in for the post. Zuma’s cabinet doesn’t have to resign, but it will be the new president’s prerogative to hire and fire ministers as he sees fit.
4. Why did this happen 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. Zuma’s speedy departure will 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 in 2019. 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 David van Rooyen, the local government minister, from the cabinet.
5. How have the markets reacted?
Business leaders and investors have been calling for Zuma to go for years and will cheer his departure, with Ramaphosa widely expected to adopt more business-friendly policies and restore investor confidence. The rand gained the most against the dollar of any currency since Ramaphosa’s election as ANC leader on Dec. 18 and is close to its strongest level in almost three years.
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