Soweto, South Africa, Aug 11 – South African President Jacob Zuma, who survived a vote of no confidence in parliament this week, is “a fighter but he knows he is bowing out,” one of his closest allies told AFP on Friday.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula called for ANC lawmakers to rally behind their leader after at least 30 of them voted to oust him in Tuesday’s crunch parliamentary motion brought by the opposition.
Zuma, 75, is due to step down as head of the African National Congress (ANC) party in December, and as national president before the 2019 general election.
Whoever succeeds him as party leader will be likely to be the next South African president.
“We must really rally behind the president until he finishes his (ANC) term in December,” said Mbalula, who has been one of Zuma’s most vocal supporters in the face of fierce criticism from within the party.
Zuma is seen as favouring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to take over, ahead of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Nominations for potential leaders open next month when party branches submit their preferred candidates.
“September is coming. It’s going to be exciting,” said Mbalula.
– Leadership battle –
A bitter succession battle could split the ANC, which risks losing power for the first time since it won the post-apartheid 1994 election under Nelson Mandela.
Zuma celebrated surviving the parliamentary vote, but opposition parties and many analysts said he was badly weakened by the number of MPs who rebelled against him.
Mbalula defended himself over his suggestion that lie-detector tests should be used to expose which ANC members voted against Zuma in the secret ballot.
“I was saying it in jest. Nonetheless, if we are to go for it, I would be the first in the queue,” he told AFP in an interview after senior ANC figures expressed anger at his stance.
A handful of ANC lawmakers have publicly joined calls from many anti-apartheid veterans and trade unions for Zuma to resign, as South Africa endures record unemployment and a recession.
Criticism of the president has been fuelled by multiple corruption scandals.
He is accused of being in the sway of the Gupta business family, allegedly granting them influence over cabinet appointments, contracts and state-owned businesses.
“We will never defend the Guptas, we will never be damaged by them,” said Mbalula, who has previously denied that his appointment as sports minister in 2010 was arranged by the Guptas.
“We are not part of their show and where they have committed blunders they must answer for themselves.”