* ANC declines comment on report Zuma to be forced out
* New ANC executive meeting for first time under Ramaphosa
* Ramaphosa has gone on offensive over Zuma’s Gupta links
* Ramaphosa announces new Eskom board, chairman and CEO
* Telkom chairman Jabu Mabuza named Eskom’s chair (Adds new details on Eskom board, Ramaphosa quote)
By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Leaders of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC)met on Saturday to outline the party’s programme for the coming year amid reports that its executive planned to force Jacob Zuma to quit as the country’s president.
An ANC spokeswoman declined to comment on a report by broadcaster eNCA saying that its newly-elected National Executive Committee (NEC) had resolved to ask Zuma - whose presidency has been hit by corruption allegations - to resign.
If Zuma refused, he would be forced to step down by the party’s six-strong leadership group, eNCA said.
An anonymous member of the NEC - which met for the first time under new ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday and Friday - was quoted by online news site News24 as saying the decision to force Zuma to resign had been unanimous.
The NEC made no mention of Zuma’s possible early exit in a statement after the first two days of a four-day meeting.
“We can’t confirm rumours of things that we don’t know. The NEC has issued a statement on the totality of discussions yesterday,” an ANC spokeswoman said.
Zuma retains the support of one part of the ANC leadership, but many others in the party argue that he has tarnished the image of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. While he has been in office, the economy has also slowed to a near-standstill.
Ramaphosa succeeded Zuma as ANC head last month, making him likely to replace Zuma as the country’s next president.
The party’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule said on Thursday that Zuma’s early removal as head of state was not on the agenda of the NEC meeting, which runs until Sunday.
But in recent days Ramaphosa has gone on the offensive against companies controlled by the Gupta family, businessmen friends of Zuma accused of unduly using political connections to win work with the state. Zuma, whose second term is due to run until 2019, has denied any wrongdoing, as have the Guptas.
That has fuelled speculation the new ANC leader and his allies are moving to lobby support for Zuma’s removal.
In its statement following the first half of the NEC meeting, the committee said officials led by Ramaphosa “will continue their engagement with President Jacob Zuma to ensure effective coordination between the ANC and government.”
The main agenda item for the second part of the meeting is the party’s programme for the coming year.
Markets have rallied since Ramaphosa’s election as ANC leader in December, as investors have warmed to his promises to root out corruption and kick-start economic growth.
Any sign that Zuma could step down before his second presidential term ends in 2019 has tended to lift South African assets, including the rand currency.
Separately, Ramaphosa announced the appointment of a new board at state-owned power utility Eskom and named Telkom’s chairman Jabu Mabuza as its new chairman.
Eskom has been in a leadership crisis after several board members, including the chairman and chief executive, resigned in 2017 amid growing governance concerns.
The presidency said in a statement that the government has recommended the appointment of Phakamani Hadebe as acting group CEO of Eskom, with immediate effect.
“We are determined to address the damage that has been done to this institution and place it on a new path of efficiency and integrity,” Ramaphosa, who is also Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on state-owned entities Reform, said.
Eskom, which supplies virtually all of the power for Africa’s most advanced economy, has been at the heart of allegations of illegality and undue influence in awarding tenders to the Gupta family.
The utility has delayed its interim results, a move that could see trading of its debt suspended in Johannesburg.
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Thursday the Treasury could not afford to bail Eskom out but would take action soon to tackle its difficulties.
Saturday’s appointments follow a meeting of Zuma, Ramaphosa, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Gigaba on Friday to address urgent challenges at the company, the presidency said.
In a memorandum seen by Reuters, Eskom senior management urged Ramaphosa to intervene at the troubled utility, saying “it has been extremely painful for us to see our once highly regarded and top performing organisation dragged from one reputational crisis to another.”
The new board has been directed to immediately remove all Eskom executives facing allegations of “serious corruption and other acts of impropriety”, the presidency said. (Editing by John Stonestreet and Alexander Smith)