Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma's decision to appointment a commission to probe allegations that his son’s business partners had exerted undue influence over state decisions, is a move aimed at defusing calls for him to step down immediately, three ruling-party officials with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.
Zuma, 75, announced the formation of the commission late on Tuesday, two days after he agreed to the probe in a private meeting with Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly appointed leader of the ruling African National Congress, the officials said.
They asked not to be identified because the talks weren’t publicly disclosed.
The president appealed a court ruling ordering him to initiate the inquiry headed by a judge nominated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as directed by the nation’s graft ombudsman, despite the ANC adopting a resolution that the investigation should proceed.
Zuma argued that only he had the right to appoint judicial commissions and decide on their terms of reference.
Zuma’s about-turn came a day before the new top leadership of the ANC met for the first time in East London. It was hoped that his climb-down would lessen the chances of him being removed before the party’s 106th anniversary celebrations this weekend, the people said.
While Zuma’s term as ANC leader ended in December his tenure as national president is only due to end next year.
His scandal-tainted rule has eroded support for the ANC, resulting in the party’s worst ever showing in municipal elections in 2016, losing control of Pretoria and the economic hub of Johannesburg. That’s led to growing calls for his exit from senior members of his own party as well as the opposition.
Anticipation that Ramaphosa, a lawyer and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, would imminently replace Zuma helped boost the rand 11% against the dollar last month, the most among the world’s major currencies.
The rand extended its decline to as much as 1.6%, to 12.5461 to the dollar on Wednesday after ANC Secretary- General Ace Magashule told reporters that Zuma’s removal wasn’t on the party meeting’s agenda, before rebounding to 12.4434 by 15:16 in Johannesburg.
Earlier this week, three of the 86 voting members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the option of toppling Zuma would be raised at the meeting.
Calls to Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesperson, didn’t connect.
Zuma took office in May 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He’s spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed the members of the Gupta family, who are his friends and are in business with his son, to influence Cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Ramaphosa is seen as more likely to promote investor-friendly policies. He accumulated his fortune after going into business and partnering with companies including Glencore and McDonald’s.
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