By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The expected successor to South African President Jacob Zuma said he has not offered Zuma immunity from prosecution as part of a deal to leave power, South African media reported Thursday. However, political opponents speculated that immunity is a key element in private negotiations over Zuma’s fate.
Unease was growing about what an anti-corruption group described as a “veil of secrecy” around talks between Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has said he anticipates a quick end to discussions about a power transition. While many South Africans want Ramaphosa to succeed a president whose credibility has been shattered by corruption allegations, they are increasingly impatient with the political limbo in one of Africa’s largest economies.
Ramaphosa told lawmakers from the ruling African National Congress party that he has not spoken with Zuma about protection from prosecution in the event that the president leaves office, the News24 website reported. It cited unidentified ruling party legislators.
“He was emphatic that he could not engage in anything unlawful, or engage with Zuma on anything that is not within the jurisdiction of the executive,” a member of parliament told News24.
Ramaphosa had canceled a meeting of an ANC leadership committee that planned to consider Zuma’s fate on Wednesday after what he called “constructive” talks with the president. The speaker of parliament said Zuma would not give the state of the nation address as previously scheduled on Thursday, in a sign of the president’s waning influence.
Zuma was scheduled to preside over an awards ceremony in Cape Town on Saturday, but the government announced that the event had been postponed.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it would go to court if it turns out that immunity from prosecution is part of any deal that Ramaphosa makes with Zuma, who appears close to quitting even though his second five-year term ends with elections in 2019.
“We cannot condone or allow Zuma to escape accountability for breaking his oath of office and putting his friends and family above the best interests of the people of South Africa,” the opposition party said.
The opposition wants state prosecutors to set a trial date for Zuma for corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago. The charges had been thrown out but a court reinstated them last year. Another major scandal involves the president’s links to alleged corruption in state enterprises during his tenure.
Ramaphosa has delivered tough messages on fighting graft since replacing Zuma as ruling party leader in December, and he was a key negotiator on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement during the transition from white minority rule to democracy in the early 1990s.
However, Save South Africa, an anti-corruption group, said Ramaphosa was “being sucked into the illicit world that Zuma and his cronies thrive in” by negotiating with the president. Any “secret backdoor deals” would set a bad precedent for a new government, the group said.
David Makhura, leader of South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng, and a ruling party member, talked about the leadership crisis at an event hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Thursday.
“I want to express what many South Africans feel now,” Makhura said. “We’ve got to go through this quickly, quickly. We can’t hold our breath for too long.”