JOHANNESBURG – South Africans are abuzz over what appears to be scandal-tainted President Jacob Zuma's final days in office. Zuma and his deputy, the ruling party's new leader, have been meeting behind closed doors on what Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa calls "closure."
A photograph from a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday of the two men seated side by side, smiling at the camera, only reinforced the perception that one of Africa's largest economies now has two centers of power. Here's a look at the uncertainty and options for an exit.
WHO'S IN CHARGE?
Zuma remains head of state, while Ramaphosa is the new leader of the ruling African National Congress party, elected to the post in December. Ramaphosa has quickly asserted himself, making high-profile moves and statements against the alleged corruption that has dogged Zuma for years and weakened the ANC's reputation ahead of 2019 elections. The party has been in power since the end of white minority rule in 1994 and wants to avoid a coalition government. Ramaphosa also led South Africa's delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month, mixing with heads of state and trying to assure investors that the country is emerging from the turmoil that briefly sent it into recession last year.
WHAT ARE THESE PRIVATE TALKS?
As pressure grows inside and outside the ANC for Zuma to resign, the president and his deputy have been meeting to discuss a transition of power that Ramaphosa has indicated should not humiliate Zuma or further divide the country of 55 million people. Ramaphosa on Wednesday said he expected a "speedy resolution" to the talks and acknowledged public frustration. Analysts have said Zuma, a deft political operator, and his deputy, a key negotiator during the end of apartheid, likely are discussing the terms of the president's exit. Sticking points could include concerns over possible prosecution for corruption allegations that remain against Zuma. The president continues to have strong areas of support, including among the ANC leadership, further complicating negotiations.
COULD THE PRESIDENT BE FORCED OUT?
Some ruling party members have pushed for ANC leaders to demand that Zuma, who has denied any wrongdoing, resign. Other options for his removal include impeachment proceedings in parliament or a vote on an opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence that is scheduled for Feb. 22. Ruling party leaders are uncomfortable with the idea of backing an opposition motion, fueling speculation that the ANC will make an internal decision to remove Zuma in the same way that President Thabo Mbeki was ousted in 2008 during his second term. Critics questioned the legality of Mbeki's removal, as the constitution only says parliament can remove the president through impeachment or a motion of no confidence.
WHAT ARE SOUTH AFRICANS SAYING?
"This is a challenging time for our country," Ramaphosa said Wednesday. The ANC is Africa's most prominent liberation movement and many veterans of the long struggle against apartheid worry that the corruption allegations against Zuma are undermining its legacy. The Nelson Mandela Foundation this week said the president should resign "sooner rather than later" and the foundation of Nobel laureate and former archbishop Desmond Tutu last year posted a scathing tweet in his name: "We will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us."