Embattled South African President Jacob Zuma addresses the nation Thursday against a background of concerted efforts in the courts, parliament and on the streets to throw him out of office.
A scandal over public money spent on his private residence and damage done to the economy when he fired two finance ministers within days are the major factors fuelling the “Zuma must fall” protests.
Zuma’s annual state of the nation address in parliament comes just two days after the Constitutional Court heard a crucial case accusing him of violating his oath to uphold the constitution.
Two opposition parties took the case to court over Zuma’s initial refusal to obey a ruling by the national ombudswoman that he repay some of the $24 million lavished on his private home at Nkandla.
His own lawyers accepted in court that the case had “traumatised the nation,” and conceded that he needed to obey.
But they urged the court not to be “inveigled into a position of making some form of wide, condemnatory order, which will be used effectively for… an impeachment in parliament”.
The court reserved judgement.
Radical opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) pledged after the hearing that they would indeed use an adverse ruling by the court to press for Zuma’s impeachment.
Any such attempt would likely fail in a parliament, where Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) holds an overwhelming majority.
– ‘Delicate time’ –
But critics hope the groundswell of discontent, expected to result in losses for the ANC in municipal elections later this year, could lead the party itself to oust Zuma as president.
The EFF has also vowed to disrupt Zuma’s address in parliament if he fails to explain his sacking of the finance ministers in December, which sent South Africa’s rand currency into free fall and hammered the stock market.
Similar tactics used by the EFF last year saw parliament degenerate into chaos and led to lawmakers being violently evicted.
Special precautions are in place this year in an attempt to avoid a repeat performance at this evening’s speech, due at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT).
Security around parliament is expected to be particularly tight, with several groups planning anti-Zuma demonstrations on the streets in major cities, including Cape Town.
The heightened tension comes amid social unrest over a sharply slowing economy, high unemployment, grinding poverty and a resurgence of public racial animosity.
Commentators have predicted that 2016 could be South Africa’s toughest year since the ANC came to power under Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994.
Even Zuma’s lawyer Jeremy Gauntlett told the Constitutional Court this week: “This is a delicate time in a dangerous year.”