ANC Rebellion Gains Momentum, Raising Odds of Zuma's Ouster

  • Mandela's lawyer Bizos says Zuma ``took a wrong turn''
  • Zuma's friends, the Guptas, resign from company positions

A rebellion against South African President Jacob Zuma is gathering momentum within the ruling African National Congress, fueling a political crisis and raising the odds of his ouster.

Calls for Zuma, 73, to step down by ANC veterans, church and civil-society organizations and business leaders have intensified since the Constitutional Court ruled on March 31 that the president “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.” Friends of the president, the Guptas, who the ANC are investigating over allegations they offered cabinet positions for concessions, on Friday quit from management and board positions in companies they control, alleging “a sustained political attack.”

“President Zuma took a wrong turn in a number of respects,” George Bizos, a lawyer who was one of former President Nelson Mandela’s closest friends and represented him at his 1963 treason trial, said by phone from Johannesburg. “I will not subscribe to the statement that the ANC is corrupt or that they do not have the interest of the country at heart. The onus is on President Zuma, for the benefit of his party which he has served well for a long time, to resign.”

Opposition to Zuma has spread since December when he fired his respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, sparking a selloff of the rand and the nation’s bonds. Last month the country’s highest court ruled that he violated the constitution for failing to repay taxpayers’ money on his private home, a scandal that has further dented confidence in an administration that’s struggling to revive a stagnating economy and cut a 25 percent unemployment rate.

While Zuma said he acted in good faith and the ANC’s top leaders and lawmakers rallied behind him to defeat an impeachment motion in parliament, hundreds of party members are refusing to tow the line and are demanding that he resign or be fired.

“The ANC is a house divided within itself,” Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, the capital, said by phone. “The people who are raising their objection are far too senior in the liberation pedigree to be ignored or to be tried in an disciplinary court of the ANC. This is just a growing story.”

Religious Organizations

Those who called on Zuma to go include: former finance minister Trevor Manuel; Dennis Goldberg, who stood trial with Mandela; Ben Turok, who once headed the ANC’s ethics committee, and Cheryl Carolus, the ANC’s ex-deputy secretary-general who has served as South Africa’s high commissioner to London. Religious organizations including the Anglican Church of SA‚ the Evangelical Alliance‚ the South African Christian Leadership Initiative have backed the campaign to oust him.

“Our first prize is that the president must resign,” Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa of the Methodist Church of South Africa told reporters Friday after meeting with ANC officials. “The reason we are asking for the president to resign, is that we feel at the moment there is a loss in public confidence.”

South Africa’s richest man, Christo Wiese, and Mandela’s former prison mate, Ahmed Kathrada, also urged Zuma to quit. A group of 42 descendants of some of South Africa’s most prominent political families on Thursday called for an emergency meeting of the ANC national conference to discuss the party’s leadership, saying Zuma is damaging the ANC’s legacy.

Branch Power

ANC branches in the central Gauteng province will meet to discuss the issue and agree on a common approach, Sasabona Manganye, chairman of the ANC’s Sefako Makgatho branch in Johannesburg, said by phone. The province didn’t back Zuma’s re-election as ANC leader in 2012.

“There are a number of branches that have come out and joined the call for Zuma to step down,” Manganye said by phone. “The collective views raised by branches will make the final determination.”

Zuma, who’s led the ANC since December 2007, retains plenty of support in the ANC and the state. His allies dominate the party’s National Executive Committee, the security services and parliament.

Controversy has dogged Zuma’s administration since he became president in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. A polygamist with four wives and more than 20 children, Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006.

Guptas Resign

Senior ANC officials have alleged that a wealthy Indian family, who are his friends and are in business with his son, offered them cabinet posts in exchange for business concessions. The ANC leadership says it’s investigating those accusations, which the Gupta family denies.

Oakbay Resources & Energy Ltd., a company controlled by the Guptas, said its Chairman Atul Gupta and Chief Executive Officer Varun Gupta quit following “a sustained political attack on the company.” Zuma’s son, Duduzane, stepped down as a director of the company’s Shiva Uranium unit.

The resignations follow a decision by financial services groups, including accounting firm KPMG LLP, to drop Oakbay and other Gupta-controlled businesses as clients in the wake of mounting criticism about the family’s influence over the president.

Tide Turning

“The tide is turning against Jacob Zuma,” Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy.“There are certain of his allies who will certainly find themselves in a difficult position if his house should fall. The key issue for the Guptas is if they can retain patronage from Jacob Zuma or from any successor in the years to come.”

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

Zuma “is a political corpse,” Nicholas Spiro, a partner at London-based Lauressa Advisory Ltd., which advises asset managers, said by e-mail. “Support for Zuma within his own party is grudging at best and could easily give way to calls for his resignation depending on how things evolve over the next several weeks.”

Credit Rating

South Africa risks losing its investment-grade credit rating, with Standard & Poor’s due to review its BBB- assessment, which is one level above junk, in June. Moody’s Investors Service put its assessment, which is one step higher, on review for a downgrade last month. The rand is the worst performer among 16 major currencies in the past year. It gained 1.8 percent against the dollar to 14.9892 by 4:09 p.m. in Johannesburg on Friday.

“There’s a growing acceptance within the political establishment that Zuma’s actions are one of the most important, if not the most important, reasons for the dramatic deterioration in financial and economic conditions in South Africa,” Spiro said.

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