JOHANNESBURG — “He’ll go now-now.”
That’s how a South African weekly over the weekend summarized the uncertainty surrounding President Jacob Zuma’s fate as the nation’s leader. Yes, he’ll almost certainly step down, but not right now. Instead, it’ll be sometime in the near future, or, to use a quintessential South African expression, “now-now.”
Negotiations between Mr. Zuma and his deputy and probable successor as president, Cyril Ramaphosa, over South Africa’s presidency entered their second week on Monday after days of premature reports that Mr. Zuma’s exit was imminent. The lack of clarity surrounding his future — and the nature of the talks themselves — deepened the anxiety and frustration among many South Africans.
But a meeting of the top leaders of the African National Congress, hastily scheduled for Monday afternoon, raised the possibility that the drawn-out negotiations were finally coming to an end.
“We know you want this matter to be finalized,” Mr. Ramaphosa told South Africans on Sunday. “We know you want closure on this matter.”
Mr. Ramaphosa added that the meeting on Monday of the party’s 86-member national executive committee would “discuss this very matter and because our people want this matter to be finalized, the N.E.C. will be doing precisely that.”
Mr. Ramaphosa, though, gave no indication of why the meeting had been suddenly called. Would the committee be informed of the results of his one-to-one talks with Mr. Zuma? Or would the committee be called on to vote to recall a still-defiant Mr. Zuma?
At a party conference in December, Mr. Ramaphosa, who has been the nation’s deputy president since 2014, succeeded Mr. Zuma as the leader of the A.N.C. He defeated Mr. Zuma’s chosen successor, his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Since then, Mr. Ramaphosa and his allies have been pressing Mr. Zuma to resign as the nation’s president, though his term does not expire until mid-2019. They argued that Mr. Ramaphosa should become the nation’s leader as soon as possible, to rebuild the A.N.C. ahead of national elections in 2019 and to woo back voters disillusioned by the years of corruption, scandals and mismanagement under Mr. Zuma.
With an eye toward uniting the party, Mr. Ramaphosa had pressed Mr. Zuma to resign voluntarily, his supporters said. A recall by the national executive committee — or a motion of no-confidence in Parliament — would risk widening the party split, or even giving birth to splinter parties.
Mr. Ramaphosa said last week that he was engaged in direct talks with Mr. Zuma over a transition, but he has given no details about what they discussed. The local news media has reported that Mr. Zuma may be trying to secure his future and his family’s against official inquiries into corruption during his nearly nine years in office.
News reports said that Mr. Zuma may also have pressed for the state to pay for any legal costs that arise from future proceedings. Mr. Zuma, who is facing a number of charges and inquiries, has used the courts to delay proceedings against him. In one case, the High Court ruled last month that Mr. Zuma was guilty of “abuse of judicial process” and ordered him to personally defray legal costs.
At a news conference Monday morning, Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said that Mr. Zuma should be afforded no special treatment, including special security after his presidency.
“There’s no place as secure as a maximum-security prison,” Mr. Maimane said, adding that the rule of law should be allowed to take its course against Mr. Zuma.
On Sunday, Mr. Ramaphosa spoke of the need to carry out talks with Mr. Zuma with “care and purpose.”
“The key objective is uniting our people,” he said.
Although Mr. Zuma has remained silent in the past week, people close to him over the weekend warned about the consequences of forcing him to step down.