JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) declined on Saturday to comment on a report its executive planned to force Jacob Zuma to quit as president, as its leaders gather to outline the party’s programme for the coming year.
Broadcaster eNCA said the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had resolved the previous day to ask Zuma – whose presidency has been tainted by a series of corruption allegations – to resign.
If he refused, he would be forced to step down by the party’s six-strong leadership group, the channel said, without naming its sources.
An anonymous member of the newly-elected NEC – which met for the first time under new ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday and Friday – was quoted by online news site News24 as saying the decision to force Zuma to resign had been unanimous.
eNCA also said authorities would within 24 hours name a new head of troubled power utility Eskom, which has been at the heart of allegations of illegality and undue influence in awarding tenders to the Gupta family, friends of Zuma.
Zuma, whose second term is due to run until 2019, has denied any wrongdoing, as have the Guptas.
The NEC made no mention of Zuma’s possible early exit in a statement it issued after the first two days of what is a four-day meeting.
Asked about the reports that Zuma would be asked to resign, an ANC spokeswoman said: “We can’t confirm rumours of things that we don’t know. The NEC has issued a statement on the totality of discussions yesterday.”
Zuma retains the support of one part of the ANC leadership, but many others in the party argue that he has tarnished the image of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. While he has been in office, the economy has also slowed to a near-standstill.
Ramaphosa succeeded Zuma as ANC head last month, making him likely to replace Zuma as the country’s next president.
The party’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule said on Thursday that Zuma’s early removal as head of state was not on the agenda of the NEC meeting, which runs until Sunday.
But in recent days Ramaphosa has gone on the offensive against companies controlled by the Gupta family, businessmen friends of Zuma accused of unduly using political connections to win work with the state. They deny all wrongdoing.
That has fuelled speculation the new ANC leader and his allies are moving to lobby support for Zuma’s removal.
The South African edition of news website Huffington Post said Ramaphosa had been contacted by Eskom managers asking him to intervene over the running of the company.
Eskom, which supplies virtually all of the power for Africa’s most advanced economy, has been embroiled in governance and graft crises and has delayed its interim results, a move that could see trading of its debt suspended in Johannesburg.
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Thursday the Treasury could not afford to bail the firm out but would take action soon to tackle its difficulties.
Its executive chairman Zethemba Khoza told News24 on Saturday he had submitted his resignation to the government.
eNCA said his replacement would be named within 24 hours, with former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene the front-runner.
A spokeswoman for the utility said senior managers had met on Friday to discuss governance issues, adding she could not comment on any board changes, which were the responsibility of the Public Enterprises Ministry.
The ministry was not immediately available for comment.
In its statement following the first half of the NEC meeting, the committee said officials led by Ramaphosa “will continue their engagement with President Jacob Zuma to ensure effective coordination between the ANC and government.”
The main agenda item for the second part of the meeting, which will run until Sunday, is the party’s programme for the coming year.
Markets have rallied since Ramaphosa’s election as ANC leader in December, as investors have warmed to his promises to root out corruption and kick-start economic growth.
Any sign that Zuma could step down before his second presidential term ends in 2019 has tended to lift South African assets, including the rand currency.