One of South Africa’s most revered anti-apartheid activists dramatically intervened in the growing row over President Jacob Zuma’s future by urging the country’s embattled leader to step down.
In a development described by analysts as potentially pivotal, Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela in 1964, called on Zuma to quit after the country’s highest court ruled on Thursday that the leader had acted dishonestly over state spending on his private mansion.
In a letter addressed to the president and published on Saturday, Kathrada said the scandal that has engulfed Zuma’s seven-year presidency had reached the point where only his resignation would allow the government to recover from “a crisis of confidence”.
Kathrada wrote: “In the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down?”
This condemnation echoed calls for Zuma’s resignation from opposition parties led by the Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Inkatha Freedom party (IFP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which stressed Zuma’s failure to even apologise unreservedly to South Africans. UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said Zuma had given the country “the middle finger”, and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi dismissed Zuma’s presidential address to the nation last Friday as “obfuscation”.
The opposition has launched impeachment proceedings against Zuma, but these are unlikely to prove fruitful given the large majority the African National Congress (ANC) has in parliament, where it holds 249 out of 400 seats in the national assembly.
Yet the response of the ANC itself to Zuma’s reaction has become a focus of concern for many South Africans, exposing the divide between the “elder statesmen” of the party, such as Kathrada, and its younger members. Last Friday, after the address, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the president had “humbled” himself: “We are comfortable with the fact he has apologised.”
But the intervention from 86-year-old Kathrada may carry considerable weight within the party, which has governed the country since apartheid ended in 1994. Mandela and Kathrada were among eight ANC activists sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of trying to overthrow the apartheid government during the 1963-1964 Rivonia trial.
The scandal is probably the biggest yet to hit Zuma, whose leadership has been mired with repeated accusations of wrongdoing since he took office in 2009. The latest revelations follow reports that the Guptas, a powerful business family close to Zuma, had a hand in choosing cabinet members. Last month a government official claimed that members of the Gupta family had offered him the post of finance minister.
Other scandals include a dodgy arms deal over which the former president Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy, and another where Zuma was charged with the rape of a friend’s daughter but later acquitted.
In 2014 an independent inquiry found that Zuma got the government to pay for lavish improvements to his home at Nkandla, in KwaZulu Natal. The president refused to pay back some of the £10m state funds spent on renovation of the property, and this led to the constitutional court’s ruling last Thursday.
In March 2014 a report by the public protector, a similar role to an ombudsman, found that Zuma had “unduly” benefited from non-security upgrades such as a swimming pool, cattle kraal, chicken run, amphitheatre and visitors’ centre at his sprawling residence.
Source: Guardian UK