Speculation is mounting over how and when South African leader Jacob Zuma will quit, as his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa acts more like a president on the national and international stage.
That makes for awkward leadership in one of Africa’s biggest economies, where a power transition from Mr Zuma to Mr Ramaphosa appears to be taking shape, even though the president’s term runs until 2019.
An early exit for Mr Zuma is being considered by ruling African National Congress party officials as ordinary South Africans hope change at the top will reduce high-level corruption which has hurt the economy and the ANC’s popularity, and diminished the country’s international standing.
A potential flashpoint could appear on February 8, when Mr Zuma is scheduled to deliver the state of the nation address in parliament. If he speaks, there would likely be protests both inside and outside the chamber.
On Wednesday, Mmusi Maimane, the main opposition leader, asked the parliament speaker to postpone the speech until the ruling party resolves its internal conflict and South Africa has a new president.
For now, South Africa seems to have two leaders, one on the way out and one poised to take over. Mr Ramaphosa, who emerged from Mr Zuma’s shadow after replacing him as head of the ruling party in December, represented the country last week in a high-profile visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In a speech back home on Tuesday, Mr Ramaphosa delivered an anti-corruption message widely viewed as a coded attack on Mr Zuma and his associates.
Mr Zuma, meanwhile, returned on the same day from an African Union summit in Ethiopia, where he also talked about corruption. He acknowledged a problem in Africa but called it “quite exaggerated” at times, and said entities outside the continent encourage African corruption for their own benefit.
Mr Zuma’s office said he also hosted a dinner commemorating the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013. Some South African media characterised the dinner as an informal farewell to fellow leaders.