© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World

Politicians, Churches Call For South African President Jacob Zuma To Resign

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, has found himself really boxed into a corner right now, all but fighting for his political survival. As Peter Granitz reports, many of Zuma's former allies are calling for his resignation amid a whole lot of economic uncertainty.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Few people and organizations are standing with Jacob Zuma, who's president of both South Africa and his political party, the African National Congress. On Tuesday, religious leaders, veterans of South Africa's independence struggle and Zuma's coalition partners all called on him to resign. Among them, COSATU, the federation of trade unions that has governed South Africa with the ANC and the South African Communist Party since the beginning of democracy in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BHEKI NTSHALINTSHALI: COSATU no long believes that the president is the right person to unite and lead the movement.

GRANITZ: That's Bheki Ntshalintshali, the general secretary of COSATU. His call for Zuma to quit follows the communists who did the same on Friday. That means two-thirds of the ruling alliance wants the president out of power. Jacob Zuma is a giant figure of modern South Africa. He spent a decade as a political prisoner on Robben Island alongside other ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela. He ran the ANC's intelligence operations in exile during the guerrilla war against the apartheid government. And he's known as a man of the people, willing to wear traditional Zulu clothes to official functions and sing and dance at political rallies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

GRANITZ: So many South Africans revere him. But Ntshalintshali says Zuma's corrupt presidency is risking his legacy. What set Ntshalintshali over the edge was Zuma's axing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NTSHALINTSHALI: He also failed to deal with some of the most incompetent ministers in his Cabinet, proving that this Cabinet shuffle was not based on merit, but on a political loyalty.

GRANITZ: On Monday, credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded South Africa to junk status. S&P cited political uncertainty in its analysis. Gordon, the former finance minister, was seen as a steadying force in South Africa's economy. Zuma says he's dispatching the new finance minister to meet with other ratings agencies and would-be investors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA: To assure them that South Africa remains a stable, reliable and competitive investment destination.

GRANITZ: It's unclear that it is. Moody's has warned of a possible downgrade. And the local currency has lost 9 percent since last week. Cheryl Carolus, a liberation veteran and former leader in the ANC, says Zuma ignored the advice of other top officials in the party when he fired Gordhan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHERYL CAROLUS: This has never, ever happened in the history of the ANC, that one person, and especially the president of the organization, will just take it upon himself to defy his comrades and proceed with a plan that they have, in fact, resisted.

GRANITZ: To be clear, Jacob Zuma is nothing if not a political survivor. He's swatted away 783 corruption charges that have swirled around him for nearly 20 years. Last year, the highest court in South Africa ruled he violated the constitution when he took government money to upgrade his personal home. He was even acquitted of a rape charge before he became president. But the current mood in South Africa appears to be different. And there's a new political player in the arena, fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. He called for mass mobilization against Zuma during a eulogy for the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada, who died last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRAVIN GORDHAN: He leaves us at a time when the problems are very clear. And who is the problem and what is the problem is very clear as well.

(APPLAUSE)

GRANITZ: Mass demonstrations against Zuma are scheduled for Friday. And opposition parties are calling for a no-confidence vote in Parliament, which could lead to Zuma's ouster. But they'll need dozens of ANC members to join them. And while Pravin Gordhan is no longer minister of finance, he's still an ANC member of Parliament. He has not said whether he'll vote for or against his former boss. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Durban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.