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A protest calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma A protest calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma  (AFP or licensors)

South African bishops urge Zuma 'to put the good of the country first'

As pressure continues to pile on South African President Jacob Zuma to resign, the Catholic Bishops have called on him to “act as an Elder Statesman and put the good of the country first”.

By Linda Bordoni

In an unprecedented move, the speaker of the South African Parliament  announced on Tuesday that the State of the Nation Speech has been postponed and the ruling African National Congress called a meeting of its top body for Wednesday as pressure mounts to force President Zuma to quit.

As Fr Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa told Linda Bordoni, Zuma has repeatedly resisted calls to quit over corruption allegations.

Pollitt explained that Zuma has repeatedly been defiant about stepping down and said that even since the election of the new African National Congress leadership in December there have been moves to ask him to step down to which he has always resisted.

Pressure and dissent increasing

He said that pressure has been building steadily and on Sunday night Zuma was asked by a group from the ANC Executive to resign.

“But he continues to be defiant and says he doesn’t see why he should quit as he has paid back the money he was told to pay back by the court” he said.

This, Pollitt continued, has caused the various factions in the ANC to realign while the opposition parties put a lot of pressure on Parliament for the State of the Nation to be postponed.

“They also set a vote of no-confidence in the President for the 22 February”, and now with the announcement that the State of the Nation has been indefinitely postponed, Pollitt said “there is a real sense that there is growing pressure for Zuma to resign”.

Sense of expectation

He said there is also the sense that people are waiting for that moment: “there is a sense of expectation” – and of course there are also groups that support him and say that “if he goes there is going to be a civil war, but that is just a minority.”

“By and large South Africans have had enough of Zuma, they have had enough of his corrupt regime, they want to see him gone and they want to see the economy of the country and all the other issues dealt with, issues that cannot be dealt with as long as Zuma is in power” he said.

Catholic Bishops' Statement

Pollitt noted that on Monday the Southern African Catholic Bishops released a statement following clashes and the intervention of police forces during a march in downtown Johannesburg by people within the ANC who were protecting the ANC Headquarters from a group that claimed to be supporting Zuma.

He said that in the statement the bishops warned of “new and dangerous tensions that are rising as the ruling party goes through a period of transitions” and they called on everyone "to engage so that things could be done in calm and in peace".

“In that statement the Bishops also called on President Zuma to act as an ‘Elder Statesman’ and to put the good of the country first” and so, Pollitt said, many read that as their appeal to the President to step down for the good of the country.

Pollitt said the bishops urged the people to pray for peace and justice and they kept saying “they hope the ruling party can find a quick solution to the transition of power for the sake of our people who suffer with poverty and unemployment.”

“There is a real sense, he concluded, the bishops were saying to Zuma: ‘do not hold on; you are making things worse, could you step down now?’”

Listen to the interview with Fr Russell Pollitt



06 February 2018, 17:21