Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been shown the door by President Thabo Mbeki.

In a dramatic day in Johannesburg, the president on Monday axed the man he appointed as his second-in-command in 1999 and again in 2004.

On Tuesday, Mbeki was to take parliament and the nation into his confidence and explain why Zuma was pushed out of office. This follows Judge Hilary Squires's ruling that Zuma and Schabir Shaik had a "generally corrupt relationship".

Zuma's axing means he will not reply to questions in the National Council of Provinces as scheduled.

The decision to fire him came after a meeting of the ANC's extended national working committee at its headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg on Monday. This had followed Mbeki's consultations with senior party leaders, including those in the provinces.

Zuma declined to resign last week, forcing the president to fire him. In terms of the constitution, the president has the prerogative to dismiss members of the cabinet.

It is not the first time that a democratic president has moved against members of his executive, but Zuma is certainly the most senior member of government to go.

In 1995, then president Nelson Mandela fired his estranged wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as deputy arts and culture minister, and a year later, Bantu Holomisa lost his job as deputy environment minister in a "cabinet reshuffle".

It was followed by an ANC disciplinary process where Holomisa was accused of bringing the ANC into disrepute after alleging that a cabinet colleague, Stella Sigcau, was guilty of corruption while she was a homeland leader.

Zuma's firing was confirmed by senior government officials on Monday.

It is expected that Zuma will be replaced by ANC national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota, although Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has also been mentioned. Zuma's axing may also involve a cabinet reshuffle.

Senior ANC insiders said Mbeki had little choice but to act firmly following the damning judgment in the trial of Shaik, Zuma's financial adviser. They conceded, however, that the deputy president's strong support base in the ruling party and its tripartite alliance partners made the president's decision a difficult one.

"I don't think the president has any option but to fire Zuma," one senior ANC source said.

"Zuma has been undermining the president with his campaign to shore up support for himself, and after his refusal to resign, the president really has little choice in the matter," said the source.

Another senior ANC member said Mbeki's decision would have significant implications for the party, but pointed out that it had "funny ways" of overcoming the most difficult of situations.

Mbeki and Zuma came face to face at Luthuli House on Monday after a week of intense campaigning by the deputy president in the rural Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, and among party supporters.

They met during a routine meeting of the ANC's top six officials, which included Lekota, secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy secretary-general Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele and treasurer Mendi Msimang.

While Mbeki was at Luthuli House, Motlanthe said there would be an extraordinary meeting of the party's national working committee at the president's Cape Town residence, at which Mbeki was expected to tell the party's leadership about the announcement he was to make in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

Also invited to the meeting were the secretaries-general of all ANC provincial structures, as well as those of alliance partners Cosatu and the South African Communist Party.

Immediately after Tuesday's meeting, ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama issued a lengthy statement berating the media and singling out "a handful of voices within the ANC and its alliance partners" who had mischievously fed journalists with reports that the party and the alliance were faltering in the wake of the Shaik judgment.

Ngonyama said: "The ANC is not - and cannot be - divided over the outcome of the Schabir Shaik trial." - Political Bureau