BACK STORY: How Zuma's exit was brokered
ANC leaders told Jacob Zuma to be more like Thabo Mbeki
On Tuesday evening, the news broke that President Jacob Zuma had agreed to vacate his office.
But it had not come easy for the ANC and its new leadership.
In the hours before his agreement to resign was publicised, ANC insiders told Times Select he was desperately clinging to power.
He had refused a request on Sunday from the top six to resign because nothing had been offered in return.
Then came the unprecedented move - the opening of parliament, scheduled to take place on Thursday, would be postponed and an urgent national executive committee meeting would take place instead.
Times Select understands that it would have been made clear to Zuma that the NEC was seeking a Thabo Mbeki-like exit for Zuma.
That was according to senior ANC leaders who attended Monday's national working committee (NWC) meeting.
If Zuma resisted, a motion of no confidence sponsored by the ANC for the first time would have decided his fate.
Insiders said Monday’s meeting recommended to the NEC that Zuma must be removed from office.
ANC leaders said they hoped Zuma would not defy an NEC decision.
"...a motion of no confidence is not something we want," the leader said. "But he has been resisting (calls to resign)."
Up until the NWC meeting, Zuma remained defiant, insisting in formal and informal talks that a resignation would be an admission of guilt and that he still commanded support among ANC rank and file.“We said to him do what Thabo Mbkei did … Not the pain and torture of resisting and being forced to remove you through parliament.”
Mbeki was recalled by the ANC’s NEC in 2008 and consequently tendered his resignation to parliament.
A second NEC source said the negotiations to nudge Zuma to resign on Sunday led by ANC deputy president David Mabuza and other officials of the ANC fell on its head when nothing was offered in lieu of Zuma’s resignation.
“Because they did not offer him anything in return there was a sense of insecurity. You have to be frank about these things. He knows the time is up. It is a matter of getting a few things lined up for him,” he said.
Zuma on Sunday still told the party’s top leadership he would not resign and he should be fired if the party did not want him to remain as head of state.
The ANC leadership denied that an amnesty deal would be negotiated with Zuma in return for his removal from office.
But according to the NEC member, some ANC leaders who were previously supportive of Zuma argued that his exit must be amicable and negotiated.“For me the proper approach will be the Zimbabwean way. Go to the old man … Say: ‘Go and then we won’t run after you. You will be fine’.”
By Wednesday evening, the terms of his agreement to step down had not been made clear. But he had agreed in principle to quit.
A series of meetings took place in parliament on Wednesday culminating in National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and NCOP chairperson Thandi Modise announcing the SONA postponement, the first time since the birth of democracy in 1994.
Mbete and Modise went to see Zuma following a meeting of the ANC's political committee in parliament, which provide strategic political guidance to the party's parliamentary caucus.
The move was welcomed by opposition parties and the ruling party, with ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu saying the party wanted SONA to held in a "conducive climate".DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the decision to postpone the SONA was “wise” and signalled “the end-game of the Zuma presidency”.
"I am happy that this great institution behind us has been spared the terrible indignity of what a farce a Zuma SONA would have been,” said Steenhuisen.
EFF secretary-general Goodrich Gardee did not mince his words: “All we need is for him to tender a resignation letter,” said Gardee. – additional reporting by Thabo Mokone