South Africa's parliament delays Zuma's speech after his party considers asking him to step down
Posted February 6, 2018 7:53 a.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2018 6:21 p.m. EST
JOHANNESBURG (CNN) — The South African Parliament postponed its annual State of the Nation Address Tuesday amid a growing clamor from within the ruling ANC party to unseat the person who would deliver it: President Jacob Zuma.
The SONA speech, the keynote political event of the year, was scheduled to take place on Thursday.
"We need to give time for any political decisions to be made," Jackson Mtembu, the chief whip of Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party, told South Africa's ENCA television.
The announcement follows a meeting of the chief whips of political parties in Parliament Tuesday and a series of high-level ANC meetings to decide the fate of Zuma, who has been at South Africa's helm for nearly a decade.
An ANC leadership meeting scheduled for Wednesday was postponed to February 17.
"This postponement follows fruitful and constructive engagements, on various issues, held earlier (Tuesday) by the president of the ANC, comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, and the President of the Republic, comrade Jacob Zuma," the statement said.
The presiding officers of Parliament said the decision was made to postpone Zuma's address because "there is little likelihood of an uneventful joint sitting of Parliament this coming Thursday."
The opposition parties had vowed to disrupt or walk out of the address if Zuma, who is mired in corruption allegations, presided over it. Similar protests in the past have turned violent.
The Parliament statement said Zuma had been consulted "in order to create room for establishing a much more conducive political atmosphere in Parliament. When we met the President, we then learned that he was already writing to Parliament to ask for the postponement of SONA."
It said a new date would be set soon.
The postponement of Zuma's parliamentary address was welcomed by the South African opposition.
"The ANC is in complete turmoil and being held to ransom by Jacob Zuma," the Democratic Alliance said in a statement. It said SONA "cannot be reduced to a public relations exercise for a man on the precipice of impeachment and possible jail time."
The DA said it had written to Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete "to ensure that our impeachment motion, tabled last year, is urgently placed back on the order paper and the rules governing the impeachment process are finalized this week."
The opposition party called for a special sitting of Parliament next week to elect a new president.
Last year, South Africa's Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to repay millions of dollars in public funds that had been spent on refurbishing his private homestead.
He also faces 783 charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering relating to a 1990s arms deal that were dropped almost a decade ago.
Zuma denies all the corruption allegations against him.
The ANC also welcomed the postponement of the national address, saying in a statement that the party caucus "will await the outcomes of the National Executive Committee scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) to give guidance to Caucus on the way forward."
Earlier Tuesday, the prestigious Nelson Mandela Foundation also called for Zuma to step down, saying he has betrayed the country Mandela dreamed of when apartheid ended.