POLITICS
06/02/2018 16:03 SAST | Updated 06/02/2018 16:43 SAST

Sona: 'Ramaphosa Convinced Zuma To Postpone Speech'

President Jacob Zuma desperately wanted to deliver the Sona. That has also now been taken away from him. The end, surely, seems nigh.

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President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly. He may not get to address MPs ever again.

After a day of furious behind-the-scenes negotiations and deliberations between Parliament, the ANC and the opposition, President Jacob Zuma was apparently convinced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to postpone the state of the nation address (Sona).

According to well-placed parliamentary sources, Ramaphosa spoke to Zuma and explained Parliament's predicament if Zuma delivered the much anticipated address. He conveyed a message from speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete – that the opening of the legislature will be again be marred by violence and chaos if he takes to the podium, and that the integrity of the institution must be protected.

Mbete told a hastily arranged press conference on Tuesday that she resolved to send a letter to Zuma to request him to postpone the address, but that Zuma decided of his own volition to do so. The joint sitting of Parliament is an annual event formally requested by the head of state.

Various Cabinet subcommittees met at Tuynhuys, the president's office at Parliament, on Tuesday morning. Mbete said last week that the opening of Parliament will go ahead as scheduled, and preparations were well on track when the announcement was made on Tuesday afternoon.

Talk in the halls of Parliament was that the ANC left it too late to deal with Zuma – and that the party's leadership realised on Sunday, after an unsuccessful attempt to convince Zuma to resign, that Thursday's speech was in jeopardy.

Opposition whips seized on the opportunity and ratcheted up the pressure on Parliament's presiding officers, demanding that the address be postponed. The EFF has, ever since it was elected to parliament, disrupted almost every Sona. This has led to violence and delays.

The ANC's dilemma, according to insiders, was that even if everything were to run smoothly at Wednesday's special NEC meeting, and even if Zuma were to tender his resignation on the day, there would still have been serious logistical constraints.

"There would have been no time to elect a new president. Ramaphosa could have done the speech in an acting capacity, but it's not ideal," said a parliamentary source with direct access to discussions.

The other scenario which Mbete and the ANC's leadership was wary of, was Zuma refusing to heed the expected recall on Wednesday.

"In that case, there [would have been] no time to schedule a motion of no confidence, especially after the EFF's motion was granted to be heard on February 22. If we had to continue with the address with a president refusing to heed his party's instruction, we all know what would have happened," the source told HuffPost.

Opposition parties have been united in their demand that Mbete postpone the event, something which is unprecedented in democratic South Africa – and a development which visibly and significantly alters the political landscape.

Further deliberations between opposition parties were scheduled for this afternoon, and the issue was going to be forced at the regular chief whips' forum, which is set for Wednesday morning. The ANC's NEC meets on Wednesday to discuss Zuma's fate.

Tuesday's development is the strongest indication yet that he will be asked to resign the presidency.