South Africa’s ANC party held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss whether Jacob Zuma should stay in office as the embattled president reportedly refused to resign.
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.
The African National Congress (ANC)’s 26-member national working committee meet at Luthuli House, the party headquarters in Johannesburg.
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.
Some ANC members are pushing for Cyril Ramaphosa, the new head of the party and the nation’s deputy president, to replace Zuma, 75, as president immediately.
But Zuma loyalists have said that the president should complete his second and final term in office, which would end when elections are held next year.
ANC spokeswoman Khusela Diko said that meeting started mid-afternoon and confirmed it was due to discuss Zuma.
Monday’s meeting cannot directly oust the president. But it has the power to convene the national executive committee, which would be able to ‘recall’ him, effectively forcing him to step down.
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 said.
‘When he will no longer have largesse to dish out, he becomes complete 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 on Thursday.
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.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Africa