JOHANNESBURG: South African President Jacob Zuma summoned cabinet ministers to a meeting in Cape Town on Tuesday, eNCA television reported, as pressure builds on the embattled 75-year-old leader to quit.
Zuma normally holds cabinet meetings on Wednesdays. It was not immediately clear why Zuma had summoned the meeting a day ahead of schedule.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has called a special meeting of its decision-making executive for Wednesday, at which analysts have said the party could call for Zuma to resign.
Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, could not be reached for comment.
Zuma, whose tenure has been engulfed by corruption scandals, is due to deliver the annual state of the nation address on Thursday, despite growing calls for him to quit before the speech.
The African National Congress said that its national executive committee would discuss preparations for the address and “management of the transition” of power between Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
The national executive committee is the ANC’s highest decision-making body and can “recall” Zuma from the post of president — though he could refuse to comply.
Wednesday’s special meeting was announced after top ANC officials gathered at Luthuli House, the party headquarters in Johannesburg, on Monday.
Scuffles erupted outside the building as Zuma supporters clashed with rival ANC activists, with at least one woman kicked and beaten with sticks, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Many ANC members are pushing for Ramaphosa, the new head of the party, to replace Zuma, 75, as president immediately.
But Zuma loyalists have said that the serving president should complete his second and final term in office, which would end when elections are held next year.
Zuma’s presidency has been dominated by corruption scandals. He faces several court cases, including over 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power in 2009.
Many graft allegations against Zuma have centred on the wealthy Gupta family, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to choose ministerial appointments.
Mcebisi Ndletyana, politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, described Zuma as a “major liability” for the ANC.
“I doubt that he will go quietly because his presidency has been troublesome — he has essentially used it to protect himself and evade accountability,” Ndletyana told AFP.
“When he will no longer have largesse to dish out, he becomes completely vulnerable and that increases his chances of imprisonment.”
Julius Malema, a former ally who left the ANC to form the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, said the president had refused to resign at late-night talks on Sunday.
“He told them to take a decision to remove him if they so wish to do so because he didn’t do anything wrong to the country,” Malema wrote on Twitter, without naming his sources.
The EFF, which has often disrupted parliament, has demanded that Zuma does not deliver the state of the nation address in Cape Town.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party has called for the event to be postponed.
Zuma’s hold on the ANC was shaken when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — lost out to Ramaphosa in a closely fought race to be party leader in December.
On January 26, Ramaphosa said that Zuma was “naturally feeling anxious” about the transfer of power.
The process would be handled “very carefully,” Ramaphosa vowed.
Ramaphosa is looking to revive the economy and tackle record unemployment before the 2019 elections that come amid falling public support for ANC.
Zuma, in power since 2009, could leave office either by resigning, through losing a vote of no-confidence in parliament or impeachment proceedings.
He could also be “recalled” by the ANC — but that would not constitutionally unseat him.
The 80-member national executive committee is seen as finely balanced between supporters of Zuma and Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa, 65, is a former trade unionist who led talks to end white-minority rule in the early 1990s and then became a multimillionaire businessman before returning to politics.
He has admitted that there has been serious corruption within the government and pledged to clean up state companies such as debt-laden power monopoly Eskom.
The ANC, which has ruled since 1994 when Nelson Mandela won the first multi-racial election, recorded its worst-ever results in 2016 local polls.