South Africa′s ruling ANC on a path to ′polarization′ | Africa | DW | 11.04.2016
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South Africa's ruling ANC on a path to 'polarization'

President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment motion in parliament but his party, the ruling ANC, is risking a damaging split in the run-up to the municipal elections.

A growing number of top South African officials were calling for President Jacob Zuma's resignation last week following a decision by the African National Congress (ANC) majority in parliament to keep their scandal-prone leader.

"I think they are taking a very substantial risk and the risk is particularly acute as we move into a four month long election campaign," said Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst in Cape Town, referring to the ANC.

The decision by the national assembly did not come much as a surprise thanks to the overwhelming support from the ruling Africa National Congress (ANC).

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and a number of prominent leaders joined the campaign dubbed "ZumaMustFall" requesting an urgent meeting with ANC leaders to discuss parliamentary decision.

Anti-apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada also called on Zuma to resign.

Zuma's presidency overwhelmed by scandals

The South African constitutional court ruled that Zuma violated the constitution when he refused to heed recommendations by the public protector to pay back some of the funds used to renovate his home at Nkandla.

South Africa's parlament debating Jacob Zuma's impeachment. © picture-alliance/dpa/N. Bothma

Oppostion MPs are furious at the ruling ANC MPs for voting to keep President Zuma

The court ruling followed another scandal in which members of the wealthy Gupta family had apparently been involved in Zuma's choice of cabinet ministers. The Guptas have since left the country, according to local media reports.

Leaders of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) have also met four top ANC figures to call for Zuma's removal. They said Zuma had lost his moral authority to continue to be president of the country.

"We need to have a conversation with the president himself," said Bishop Siphosihle Siwa, president of SACC. "We have made those requests and we will continue to do so. Ultimately if we are talking about him resigning, it is a decision he has to make. It's not about the ANC; it's about the president choosing what is better for the country."

The SACC came out very strongly against Zuma apparently disregarding his apology to the nation after the court ruling. "The ANC will have to listen to the religious leaders," Silke said.

"There is very sensitive and often difficult relationship in the past between the ANC and religious leaders. The ANC as a political party is comprised of many who are religious," Silke added.

Jacob Zuma © Reuters/M. Hutchings

Defiant President Zuma won't cave in to calls for his ouster

Frank Chikane, former secretary general of SACC in the height of the anti-apartheid struggles between 1970 and 1980, said the demand for Zuma to step down was not about "changing the regime."

"Our plea is that the president should assist us to end this pain so that we can really work for the South Africa that we prayed for [in the apartheid era]," Chikana said.

Albertina Luthuli, the eldest daughter of South Africa's first Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Luthuli, has also joined the "ZumaMustFall" campaign. Luthuli, the father, led the ANC prior to the emergence of Nelson Mandela and was killed in a mysterious train accident near his home north of the city of Durban.

"Those who really fought for our liberation suffered and died and all those people who brought us to 1994 are in tears," said Albertina Luthuli.

Looming municipal elections

South Africa is heading to the polls in municipal elections in August. Analysts say they will be a test of the ANC's approval ratings.

Protest against Jacob Zuma iin Cape Town dpa - Bildfunk+++ picture-alliance/dpa

The number of ANC supporters calling for Zuma's removal grows after every scandal

"The party is defending Zuma in an increasingly difficult political climate and this protection of Jacob Zuma will create further tension within the ANC itself and it would polarize those within the ANC who wish to see Zuma continues and those who wish to see him replaced earlier rather than later," Silke said.

ANC leaders lashed back at the "ZumaMustFall" campaign saying they have been elected to improve the lives of the people.

"We know where we are going as a movement and we are determined to achieve the objectives of our national democratic revolution, that's what we are focusing on," said Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president to Zuma.

"We are not supporting Comrade Zuma because he has done something wrong, he has committed an honest mistake and President Zuma accepted the mistake honestly," said Mpo Masemola, from the organization Ex-Political Prisoners Association.

"We are surprised to see church leaders refusing to accept the apology from the president," he said.

Subry Govender in Johannesburg contributed to this article