De­fi­ant Zuma re­signs pres­i­dency as po­lit­i­cal cri­sis grips South Africa

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - GE­OF­FREY YORK JO­HAN­NES­BURG

Less than 24 hours be­fore a planned par­lia­men­tary vote to fire him, pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma has bowed to in­tense pres­sure from his own rul­ing party and an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion in a late-night speech to the coun­try.

It was an ig­no­min­ious end to one of the stormi­est and most con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cal ca­reers in postapartheid his­tory. And it was the cul­mi­na­tion of a dra­matic day of sur­prises in South Africa, be­gin­ning with a dawn po­lice raid on wealthy as­so­ciates of Mr. Zuma’s fam­ily, who are fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges.

His res­ig­na­tion is a stun­ning victory for his ri­val, Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the rul­ing African Na­tional Congress, who now be­comes the act­ing pres­i­dent and is ex­pected to be con­firmed as pres­i­dent in a vote by Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day.

Mr. Zuma ad­dressed the coun­try in a late-night speech after a day of de­fy­ing the or­ders of the ANC, which had in­structed him to re­sign.

Mr. Zuma en­tered of­fice in 2009 as a pop­u­lar ANC vet­eran and for­mer anti-apartheid fighter who was praised as a sim­ple man with a com­mon touch. By his ninth year in of­fice, his ap­proval rat­ing had plum­meted, he was tan­gled in cor­rup­tion scan­dals, and he had brought the ANC into shock­ing de­feats in some of South Africa’s big­gest cities.

An­nounc­ing his res­ig­na­tion, Mr. Zuma said he had to re­spect the wishes of Par­lia­ment. He said he was wor­ried about the ten­sions within the ANC be­tween his sup­port­ers and op­po­nents. “No life should be lost in my name,” he said in his tele­vised speech.

“The ANC should never be di­vided in my name,” he said. “I have there­fore come to the de­ci­sion to re­sign as Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, even though I dis­agree with the de­ci­sion of the lead­er­ship of my or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Much of his speech was de­voted to dec­la­ra­tions of re­spect for the South African Con­sti­tu­tion and par­lia­men­tary sys­tem – although the coun­try’s high­est court has con­cluded that he vi­o­lated the Con­sti­tu­tion in his han­dling of a scan­dal over the use of state funds in his pri­vate home.

“I fear no mo­tion of no-con­fi­dence or im­peach­ment, for they are the law­ful mech­a­nisms for the peo­ple of this beau­ti­ful coun­try to re­move their pres­i­dent,” Mr. Zuma said.

Ear­lier in the day, an elite po­lice unit launched a raid on the Jo­han­nes­burg villa of the pow­er­ful Gupta broth­ers, busi­ness part­ners of Mr. Zuma’s son. The Gup­tas were at the heart of the coun­try’s big­gest cor­rup­tion scan­dal, ac­cused of wield­ing in­flu­ence over Mr. Zuma for their own per­sonal profit. One of the Gupta broth­ers was re­port­edly ar­rested in the po­lice raid, along with other Gupta as­so­ciates and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Mr. Zuma, in an an­gry and ram­bling interview on the state broad­caster be­fore his res­ig­na­tion, warned that the ANC’s de­ci­sion to or­der him from of­fice could pro­voke “violence” among its mem­bers. He com­plained that he was be­ing “vic­tim­ized” by an “un­fair” de­ci­sion by his own party com­rades.

“This is some­thing they are go­ing to re­gret,” he said. “Some peo­ple are not go­ing to like it. It’s go­ing to cause big­ger prob­lems. … We’re be­ing plunged into a cri­sis that I’m sure my com­rades will re­gret.”

Mr. Zuma’s de­fi­ance had es­ca­lated the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has left the South African gov­ern­ment in dis­ar­ray. In his interview, he ap­peared to be con­firm­ing the fears of many South African politi­cians, who have wor­ried that Mr. Zuma could en­cour­age his fol­low­ers to take to the streets in protest or violence.

He said the ANC had failed to give any rea­sons for its de­ci­sion. “There is no ev­i­dence, no­body has said I’ve done some­thing wrong. I don’t un­der­stand. I don’t think it is fair. … This has been done in a man­ner where I’m be­ing vic­tim­ized here.”

His re­fusal to re­sign on Wed­nes­day morn­ing soon trig­gered a rapid move to force him out of of­fice with a vote in South Africa’s Par­lia­ment. The ANC and all ma­jor op­po­si­tion par­ties

an­nounced they would sup­port a mo­tion of no-con­fi­dence on Thurs­day at 2 p.m. lo­cal time, es­sen­tially en­sur­ing Mr. Zuma’s de­par­ture.

The vote would have im­me­di­ately re­moved him from of­fice. Un­der the plan agreed to by all par­ties, Par­lia­ment would then choose a new pres­i­dent on Fri­day morn­ing.

Sev­eral op­po­si­tion par­ties said they would have pre­ferred to im­peach Mr. Zuma, which would have stripped him of his salary and ben­e­fits. But Par­lia­ment is cur­rently re­vis­ing its im­peach­ment rules in a court-or­dered process, so the par­ties were plan­ning to use the no-con­fi­dence process, which re­quires only a sim­ple ma­jor­ity to pass.

After post­pon­ing much of Par­lia­ment’s work for the past 10 days while the Zuma saga un­folded, the ANC is now anx­ious to catch up on the de­layed work. “Ev­ery­thing has al­most come to a stand­still, so we need to move,” said Paul Mashatile, a se­nior ANC of­fi­cial. “We don’t have time to be bick­er­ing over who should be pres­i­dent.”

The ANC had ex­pected Mr. Zuma to ad­dress South Africans on Wed­nes­day morn­ing in re­sponse to its de­ci­sion on Tues­day to or­der him to re­sign. But after briefly sched­ul­ing a me­dia ap­pear­ance, Mr. Zuma can­celled the ap­pear­ance and dis­ap­peared from view un­til his tele­vi­sion interview later in the day.

The ANC had wanted Mr. Zuma to make way for its newly elected leader, Mr. Ramaphosa, who won an ANC con­fer­ence vote in De­cem­ber after cam­paign­ing on an anti-cor­rup­tion prom­ise.

Mean­while, the long-sim­mer­ing cor­rup­tion scan­dal that has sur­rounded Mr. Zuma is fi­nally lead­ing to ar­rests.

Shortly after dawn on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, an elite po­lice unit raided the lux­u­ri­ous Jo­han­nes­burg villa of the Gupta broth­ers, the wealthy busi­ness part­ners of Mr. Zuma’s son, Duduzane. They said the raid was part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an al­legedly cor­rupt farm pro­ject. The pro­ject was a crim­i­nal scheme that di­verted mil­lions of dol­lars of gov­ern­ment money into Gupta bank ac­counts, prose­cu­tors say.

Heav­ily armed tac­ti­cal po­lice blocked the street lead­ing to the Gupta villa, telling re­porters that it was a “crime scene.”

The elite unit, known as the Hawks, later an­nounced they had ar­rested three sus­pects. Two other sus­pects had agreed to hand them­selves over, they said in a state­ment.

One of the Gupta broth­ers, Ajay Gupta, and a Gupta busi­ness as­so­ciate were among those de­tained for ques­tion­ing, lo­cal me­dia re­ports said. One re­port said Duduzane Zuma could be among those tar­geted in the ar­rests, with a to­tal of 15 sus­pects on the ar­rest list. A for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial of Free State prov­ince, where the farm pro­ject was lo­cated, were also among those ar­rested on Wed­nes­day.

The Hawks said they were mak­ing ar­rests in sev­eral lo­ca­tions in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “state cap­ture” – the com­mon term here for wide­spread cor­rup­tion in which Gupta busi­ness in­ter­ests have al­legedly cap­tured state agen­cies for their own profit.

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