ANC bosses clear diaries as Zuma exit looms
President Jacob Zuma's exit from office edged closer Friday as South African ruling party leaders cancelled a series of public appearances, fuelling speculation they were finalising his departure.
Zuma has refused to resign despite a request from senior African National Congress (ANC) officials, triggering a fevered week of negotiations with Cyril Ramaphosa, his likely successor.
The sudden decision by the party's "top six" leaders to abandon plans to join celebrations in Cape Town marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth prompted further reports that Zuma was about to step down.
"The national officials of the ANC will no longer participate... This is because of various other commitments they are required to attend to," said a party statement.
Local media reported that Zuma, who faces multiple criminal charges, was negotiating an exit deal, with payment of his future legal fees emerging as a key sticking point.
On Friday the president reportedly flew back from Cape Town, home of the parliament, to his official residence in Pretoria.
The ANC has said it is awaiting the "imminent conclusion" of talks between Zuma and Ramaphosa, but gave no further details.
The impasse led to the State of the Nation address -- the flagship occasion of the political year -- being postponed this week, though the ANC insists that the budget on February 21 will not be delayed.
The government also postponed an awards ceremony on Saturday at which Zuma was to officiate, effectively emptying his short-term diary.
- Poor economic record -
The pro-Zuma New Age newspaper said the president would gather his family at his residence in Pretoria this weekend to inform them of his decision.
The paper cited an unnamed source who said Zuma "is expected to announce his resignation as early as Monday".
Zuma's wife Thobeka Madiba-Zuma posted a picture of the couple on Instagram on Thursday, adding a defiant comment that warned against "picking a fight with someone who is not fighting you".
Zuma, 75, who has been in office since 2009, has clung to power despite a string of corruption scandals, an economic slowdown and record unemployment.
He faces several court cases, including action relating to 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power.
Many of the recent graft allegations are linked to the Guptas, a wealthy Indian business family accused of improperly winning government contracts and influencing cabinet appointments.
"The ANC have been pushed into the corner and so have to act and take a decisive decision," political analyst Ralph Mathekga told AFP.
Ramaphosa, a seasoned negotiator with experience of mediating conflicts elsewhere in Africa, told ANC lawmakers on Thursday that he would need only "a day or two" to complete the transition, party veteran Snuki Zikalala said.
Ramaphosa, 65, is due to speak at an ANC rally in Cape Town on Sunday, marking February 11, the day that Mandela was released from jail in 1990 -- a defining moment in the fall of apartheid rule.
In 2007, the party pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki over allegations of abuse of power.
Under Zuma, the ANC suffered its worst electoral setback, winning less than 54 percent of the vote, in municipal elections in 2016. The party also lost its absolute majority in five of the country's six largest cities.