South Africa President Jacob Zuma's exit from power appeared to be inching closer today as his deputy, who is expected to replace him, said he anticipated a "speedy resolution" to their transition talks.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who in December became leader of the African National Congress, acknowledged "a lot of speculation and anxiety" about the status of the president, but said he and Zuma would finish their discussions and report to the ruling ANC party and the population of one of Africa's biggest economies in the coming days.
Since replacing Zuma as ANC leader, Ramaphosa has been delivering a strong anti-corruption message. Many former supporters who have turned against Zuma have worried that he is digging in or at least trying to make a deal, possibly including immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his resignation.
"This is a challenging time for our country," Ramaphosa said in a statement. "Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure. The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division."
Zuma has denied various reports and allegations, reflecting a growing mood of uncertainty over the protracted wait for a resolution to the country's leadership crisis.
Delay fuels speculation about resignation deal
Zuma, 75, has been South Africa's most controversial president since the end of white minority rule in 1994, overseeing a tumultuous nine years marked by economic decline and numerous allegations of corruption
His second five-year term is scheduled to end with elections in 2019, but many ruling party members want Ramaphosa to take over as soon as possible so that the party can try to recover the trust of voters alienated by the president's scandals.
The speaker of parliament has said Zuma will not give the state of the nation address in parliament that had been set for Thursday, and the ruling ANC announced the postponement of a meeting Wednesday to discuss the president's fate. Ramaphosa said the meeting was delayed to allow for a conclusion to his talks with Zuma.
That delay increased speculation that a deal for Zuma to resign had been ironed out. Times Live, an online news service, quoted sources as saying Zuma would resign as soon as a list of preconditions had been finalized.
More information about Zuma's status as president will be available once "all pertinent matters" have been finalized, said Ramaphosa.
Speaker Baleka Mbete suggested South Africans would get clarity on his fate within hours.
"In this day there will be some progress which the president of the ANC will be ready to come back to us about," she told the eNCA television channel.
Zuma's spokesperson declined to comment on Mbete's remarks.
The machinations within the ANC are an ironic recycling of history for Zuma, who engineered the ouster of former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008 shortly after taking the helm of the ANC.
Zuma has not said whether he will resign voluntarily before his second term as president ends next year.
The rand, which has tended to strengthen on signs that Zuma could step down early, was jittery on Wednesday as traders awaited clarity on the political drama.
800 counts of corruption
Ramaphosa has put the focus on rooting out corruption and revitalizing economic growth since defeating Zuma's preferred successor, Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the ANC leadership race.
The former union leader has said he does not want to humiliate Zuma, but has been lobbying behind the scenes for him to step down early.
Zuma still retains the support of a faction within the ANC, but has seen several prominent party allies desert him recently.
The ANC was the main anti-apartheid movement for decades and has led South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994, but its moral stature has diminished because of Zuma and wider problems of corruption and mismanagement.
Zuma, meanwhile, is still fighting nearly 800 counts of corruption over an arms deal from the late 1990s and his ties with the Gupta brothers, a family of wealthy Indian-born businessmen, are the subject of a judicial inquiry on grand-level corruption.
The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.
Zuma also faces another no-confidence vote against his leadership in parliament on Feb. 22, brought by the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party.