In this photo supplied by the South African Government Communications and Information Services (GCIS) South African President Jacob Zuma, left, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, right, with minsters and deputy ministers at a scheduled routine meeting of Cabinet Committees at parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. The speaker of parliament said Tuesday that Zuma will not give the state of the nation address in parliament that had been set for Thursday and the ruling African National Congress party announced the postponement of a meeting Wednesday to discuss the president's fate. (South African Government Communication and Information Services / Elmond Jiyane /via AP)

Under pressure, South Africa's leader warns of "fake" news

February 07, 2018 - 7:05 am

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's embattled president calls it "fake" news — a social media report that Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to visit the country this week. President Jacob Zuma's office also denies allegations by opponents that he is preparing to fire the deputy who is poised to take his job, illustrating the uncertainty over the leadership of one of Africa's biggest economies.

The disputed announcements come amid intense pressure on Zuma to resign over alleged corruption, and growing anxiety over the protracted wait for a resolution to the country's political crisis. The speaker of parliament said Zuma will not give the state of the nation address in parliament that had been set for Thursday and the ruling African National Congress party announced the postponement of a meeting Wednesday to discuss the president's fate.

The postponement of the ANC meeting to Feb. 17 followed what the party described as "fruitful and constructive engagements" between Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over from his boss as party leader in December and has since delivered strong anti-corruption messages. Many former supporters who have turned against Zuma fear he is digging in or at least trying to make a deal, possibly including immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his resignation.

The president will preside on Saturday over an awards ceremony in Cape Town for South Africans who have promoted the country's international image, Zuma's office said Wednesday.

Zuma has been embroiled in scandals for years, paying back some state money following multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home, being criticized for his association with the Gupta business family accused of looting state enterprises and influencing Cabinet ministers for their own benefit, and now facing the possible reinstatement of corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.

South Africans now wonder about the timing and circumstances of the seemingly inevitable exit of the president whose second five-year term is scheduled to end with elections in 2019.

As speculation swirled, Zuma's office on Tuesday referred to a "fake media statement circulating on social media" that Putin was going to visit for several days starting Thursday. The motive for disseminating such a claim was unclear, though it could have given the impression that the president remained firmly in command. Some prominent South African news outlets reported the alleged visit before retracting their reports.

Separately, allegations that Zuma wanted to fire Ramaphosa and replace him with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former African Union commission chair and Zuma's ex-wife, are "preposterous and outrageous," the president's office said. Dlamini-Zuma, seen as sympathetic to the president, narrowly lost the race to lead the ruling party to Ramaphosa, a key negotiator of the transition from white minority rule to democracy in the early 1990s.

Zuma also denied that he was mobilizing supporters from his Zulu ethnic group to confront his detractors.

The South African Communist Party, a former Zuma ally, made the allegations, accusing the president of using "tribalism" as part of "his plan to continue overstaying his welcome in office."

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Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris

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