By James Macharia and Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG/PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s SABC state broadcaster reported on Monday that Jacob Zuma had agreed to resign as head of state, citing sources, but the embattled leader’s spokesman quickly dismissed this as “fake news”.
The rand, which had gained as much as 1 percent on expectations Zuma was on his way out, surrendered some of its gains after the rebuttal by the spokesman but remained 0.5 percent stronger on the day to the dollar.
Standing outside a meeting of the top leadership of the ruling ANC, SABC correspondent Tshepo Ikaneng cited “authoritative sources” saying 75-year-old Zuma had agreed to step down and formalities on how to tell the nation were being discussed. The broadcaster also tweeted the report on its Twitter handle @SAfmnews.
He provided no further details in his brief live broadcast – the first reports that Zuma might be throwing in the towel after repeated calls from his party to end his scandal-plagued second term a year early.
Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, denied the reports in a text message, describing them as “fake news”.
The meeting of the ANC’s decision-making National Executive Committee (NEC) in a Pretoria hotel had set the stage for a decisive showdown between Zuma stalwarts and those backing a swift transfer of power to new party leader and current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa, 65, says he has held direct talks with Zuma over a transfer of power, and said on Sunday the meeting of the party’s executive committee would be aiming on Monday to “finalize” the situation.
The party executive has the authority to order Zuma to step down as head of state, although there is some domestic media speculation that he might resist this.
Zuma survived calls last year from within the NEC for him to quit.] But analysts say there is greater support for him to step down now.
Zuma’s tenure as president officially runs until mid-2019 and he has not said in public whether he will step down voluntarily.
Zuma is also facing a no-confidence motion in parliament set for Feb. 22, but has survived several similar attempts to oust him in the past. His entire cabinet would have to step down if the motion of no-confidence against him was successful.
Since becoming president in 2009, Zuma has been dogged by scandal. He is fighting the reinstatement of 783 counts of corruption over a 30 billion-rand (now $2.5 billion) government arms deal arranged in the late 1990s when he was deputy president.
Some within the ANC and the opposition say the Gupta family, friends of Zuma, have used their links with the president to win state contracts and influence cabinet appointments. The Guptas and Zuma himself have denied any wrongdoing.
India’s Bank of Baroda, which counts the Guptas as clients, has announced plans to exit South Africa, the central bank said on Monday.
Ramaphosa has put the focus on rooting out corruption and revitalizing economic growth since defeating Zuma’s preferred successor, Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the ANC leadership race.
(Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia)