JOHANNESBURG • South Africa's ruling party yesterday ordered Mr Jacob Zuma to step down as head of state after marathon talks over the fate of the leader, whose scandal-plagued years in power darkened and divided Nelson Mandela's post-apartheid "Rainbow Nation".
Leading members of the African National Congress now want the party's new leader Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Mr Zuma as president, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule told journalists.
But he said the ANC national executive was split on precisely when Mr Zuma should go.
Mr Magashule said he had met Mr Zuma personally to pass on the decision. "We haven't given him any deadline to respond... The organisation expects him to go," he said.
The decision to order Mr Zuma's "recall" - ANC-speak for removal from office - followed 13 hours of tense deliberations.
Mr Magashule later told state broadcaster SABC that Mr Zuma had not threatened to challenge his removal by the party in court, as speculated by local media, and would respond by today on the decision to "recall" him.
"President Jacob Zuma has behaved like a leader of the ANC. He has never threatened us with any court action, not at all," Mr Magashule said.
Mr Zuma, a 75-year-old polygamous Zulu traditionalist with no formal education, has been living on borrowed time since Mr Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer once tipped as Mandela's pick to take over the reins, was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December.
Mr Ramaphosa, 65, narrowly defeated Mr Zuma's former wife and preferred successor Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the leadership vote, forcing him to tread carefully in handling Mr Zuma for fear of deepening rifts in the party a year ahead of an election.
South Africa's economy, the most sophisticated on the continent, has stagnated during Mr Zuma's nine-year tenure, with banks and mining companies reluctant to invest because of policy uncertainty and rampant corruption.
However, since mid-November when Mr Ramaphosa emerged as a real ANC leadership prospect, economic confidence has started to pick up, while the rand - a telling barometer of Mr Zuma's fortunes - has gained more than 15 per cent against the dollar.