RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This morning, South Africa's governing party has told the country's president, Jacob Zuma, that it's time for him to go. Zuma has been facing mounting pressure to step down after nine years in office, nine years which have been overshadowed by widespread accusations of corruption. Our Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now. Ofeibea -
so it's one thing for the ANC to say, Jacob Zuma, you have to go. It's quite another, I imagine, for him to actually do that. How likely is it that Zuma is going to step down?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: As you know, we've been to-ing and fro-ing for several weeks here. Now, the secretary general of the ANC, Ace Magashule, who is one of President Jacob Zuma's supporters within the party, says that he has agreed, in principle, to step down. Now we - after a 13-hour-long marathon meeting of the ANC's National Executive Committee yesterday, they told him he must go.
But President Zuma is known as a wily political operator, and he seems to be pushing this to the wire, probably for guarantees, although the ANC has told him that if it's a case of prosecution for these allegations of corruption, they can do nothing. But maybe he's looking for guarantees for his family, et cetera. We'll see.
MARTIN: So if for the entire time he's been in office these corruption charges have been looming, why is this all coming to a head now?
QUIST-ARCTON: Because President Jacob Zuma has become politically toxic. He's become politically poisonous for the ANC, which is going to elections - key elections - next year. In local elections, they've lost quite important areas. Already, the Western Cape does not belong to the ANC. Gauteng, which is Johannesburg and Pretoria, it lost - and also the Nelson Mandela Metropolis in the south - in the Eastern Cape. So they need to get rid of Jacob Zuma.
Now, he is expected to respond tomorrow. His deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has become head of the party since December, needs to act urgently but gingerly because the two of them are - although one is president, one is deputy president - the two of them are not known to be friends. And Zuma is somebody who still has supporters within the ANC and the country because of his credentials as an anti-apartheid fighter.
So it's difficult, sensitive times for the party, but they know they need to act now.
MARTIN: I mean, this transition - it does have to be managed carefully. South Africa is - I mean, they're in the middle of this horrific drought. Right? The capital city, Pretoria, is almost out of water. I imagine that political turmoil like this isn't exactly going to help the economy there either.
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, it's Cape Town that is running out of water. But just in general, the rand, the local currency, has been up and down - very high, very low - hit rock bottom against the dollar. And, you know, it's not just within the ANC, which is trying to manage this crisis so that it won't be the opposition that possibly - that's already called for a no-confidence vote or impeach the president. The ANC wants to be the party that deals with it. But President Zuma is making it very difficult for his leadership.
MARTIN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton for us this morning.
Thanks so much, Ofeibea.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. And we're watching this story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.