Johannesburg - At least three members of President Jacob Zuma's cabinet are said to have led impassioned calls for him to step down or that the ANC national executive committee (NEC) vote to remove him.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi asked Zuma to resign. They were strongly supported by ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu.
The president's alleged improper relationship with the Gupta family, the decline in ANC support during local government elections and the Nkandla scandal were used as bases for him to step down.
The ANC NEC meeting, scheduled to end on Sunday, was extended to Monday as a "rough", "fierce" and "robust" debate over his fate had not been concluded. Zuma's supporters in the NEC are expected to lead a vocal fightback on Monday.
News24 has learned from inside sources that more than 30 people spoke for and against the "surprise" motion tabled by Hanekom for Zuma to step down on Saturday.
City Press reported on Sunday that those set on removing Zuma were lobbying for a secret ballot to determine the president’s fate.
A Zuma supporter in the NEC told News24 the debate showcased the deepening divisions within cabinet and raised questions about how Zuma could continue working with cabinet members who had no confidence in him, should he survive.
News24 was told at least three Zuma cabinet ministers pushed for his removal: Hanekom, Nxesi and Motsoaledi. But Zuma was defended by three other ministers: International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; State Security Minister David Mahlobo, and Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana. Zokwana is said to have argued that the party had emerged wounded and split after former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled and warned that they should not do it again.
The source said Zokwana's defence of Zuma was a surprise as he was chairperson of the South African Communist Party – which has made a dramatic U-turn in its support of Zuma. Nxesi and Thenjiwe Mtintso, who also called for Zuma to step down, are also senior SACP members. Mtintso is a former deputy secretary-general of the ANC.
News24 understands that Zuma's defenders asked his critics in cabinet to themselves resign.
“Why don’t they resign? How do you work with him (Zuma) when you don’t have confidence in him?” asked an NEC member.
Zuma supporters 'ambushed'
Zuma's supporters admitted that the Hanekom motion caught them by surprise and they had to fight back on Sunday.
“It was an ambush, all of us were relaxed going to the NEC, expecting to prepare for January 8 and deal with other organisational matters, and they followed each other arguing for the president to step down. It felt like they had caucused and planned it somewhere else and they thought they had the numbers to win,” the NEC member said.
The pro-Zuma faction had to fight back after Saturday's "ambush", which they described as "rough". The NEC was extended by a day and Zuma's defenders were expected to speak against Hanekom's motion on Monday.
The NEC, which was previously seen to be dominated by Zuma supporters, has until now taken no action against Zuma.
It accepted his apology following the Constitutional Court ruling in March that he had failed to uphold the Constitution by not implementing former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action to pay back some of the money spent on upgrades to his Nkandla home.
The structure also decided to take collective responsibility following a decline in electoral support during local government elections that saw the party lose the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane metros.
Zuma's defenders argued that the calls for Zuma to go could not resurface now, given the NEC's previous decisions and that Madonsela's state capture report was not conclusive and under review. Another NEC member argued that the NEC has never voted, but always decided by consensus and therefore the motion to vote should fail.