UDM leader Bantu Holomisa

DURBAN – Those warning of civil war if President Jacob Zuma is recalled by the African National Congress are spouting “empty threats”, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said on Sunday.

“It is an empty threat, we don’t take them seriously. We know the desperation by some of them. I don’t give them a chance; the South African security forces would stop that within minutes,” Holomisa told the African News Agency (ANA) via telephone on Sunday. 

Zuma has come under increasing pressure from some in the ANC, civil society, and opposition parties to resign before the state-of-the-nation address (Sona) on February 8.  

The ANC's "top six" officials were meeting on Sunday to discuss a “smooth leadership transition”, but according to secretary general Ace Magashule, Zuma will deliver the Sona. Magashule is a staunch Zuma ally.

Zuma’s supporters – mostly fringe movements such as Black First Land First - have been calling on the ANC to allow him to finish his term, claiming a forced exit could lead to social upheaval and possibly civil war.

READ MORE: ANC leaders to decide on Zuma's fate?

A #HandsOffZuma march is planned to ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg on Monday, with a counter-march planned to take place at the same time. ANC members supporting the counter-march say they are defending the party, not one man.

“Let’s hope today [Sunday] that in the meeting with the top six officials they will come out and tell the nation what was the outcome, because the meeting of today is to ask him to step down. If he agrees, there is no need for him to address the state of the nation,” said Holomisa.

But two high-ranking ANC members told the ANA that Zuma was “hell-bent” on delivering the address.

Last week, the leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance Mmusi Maimane asked National Assembly Speaker Baleke Mbete to delay the Sona, but she refused, maintaining she did not have the power to do so.

At the same time, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema asked for a vote of no confidence debate, which Mbete granted, but said it would only take place on February 22.

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported several opposition parties intended to apply for an interdict, presumably in the Western Cape High Court, forcing Mbete to postpone the event if she did not agree to do so by the end of business on Monday. They reportedly claimed the Sona could not continue until impeachment regulations had been finalised.

In January, a parliamentary sub-committee of the rules committee drafted guidelines on how to manage the impeachment of a president process. Parliament was ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court in December 2017.

This followed a case brought by the EFF, UDM, and Congress of the People (Cope). The parties successfully argued that parliament failed to hold Zuma to account in relation to the remedial action ordered by the public protector concerning the upgrades to his private home at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.

They argued there were insufficient rules and structures within parliament for this process to be done effectively. It is expected the new rules will be adopted in March, with impeachment proceedings likely to begin shortly thereafter if Zuma has not yet stepped down.   

Holomisa told the ANA that Zuma now had no other option besides “the constitutional option”. “That is, he can still go to court and interdict his own party, saying that his term ends only in 2019.” This would be a delaying tactic and it was clear Zuma was waiting to be told that if he stepped aside he would be given immunity from prosecution, Holomisa said.

Zuma potentially faces a raft of fraud and corruption charges stemming back to 2007, but the country will only know if he is to be prosecuted when the chief prosecutor – alleged to be a Zuma ally - has examined the reams of evidence that Zuma’s lawyers delivered on Thursday last week.

“Unfortunately the top six of ANC don’t have the power to grant him immunity. If the ANC were to agree it would be a suicidal mission. How do you give a guarantee to not prosecute a person even before he has pleaded?” asked Holomisa.  

African News Agency/ANA