CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's ruling party suspended former President Jacob Zuma on Monday after he gave his backing to a new political party for this year's national elections.
The announcement followed weeks of intrigue over whether the ANC would act against Zuma, who led the ANC from 2007-2017 and was president of Africa's most advanced economy from 2009-2018.
Zuma said at a press conference in December he would be voting for the newly formed MK Party, and his decision to turn his back on the ANC was because of Ramaphosa's leadership. Zuma later said he aimed to keep his ANC membership.
The name of the new political party also rankles the ANC. MK is an abbreviation for uMkhonto we Sizwe, the name of the now-defunct ANC military wing formed by Nelson Mandela in 1961 to fight the apartheid system of white minority rule in South Africa.
The ANC said Zuma’s conduct in campaigning against it was “irreconcilable” with the party’s constitution, adding that "Zuma and others whose conduct is in conflict with our values and principles will find themselves outside the ANC.”
Ramaphosa rose to power promising to clean up the ANC and took over the presidency after Zuma, 81, was forced to step down in 2018 amid allegations of corruption. Zuma is currently on trial and faces multiple charges relating to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal the South African government signed with French arms company Tales more than 20 years ago, when he was a deputy president.
Zuma still has support in parts of South Africa, and more than 300 people died in riots in 2021 when he was sent to prison for contempt of court for refusing to testify at an inquiry into government corruption while he was president. It was the worst public unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Analysts say the ANC is facing its toughest election this year amid rising levels of poverty and unemployment. The party once led by Nobel laureate Mandela is dogged by corruption allegations and accusations that it has failed to deliver a better life for millions of poor.
Some polls suggest it may dip below 50% of the national vote for the first time, which would force it to enter into a coalition to retain Ramaphosa as president. The ANC has been in government with a clear majority since the end of apartheid 30 years ago but its popularity has steadily declined.
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