Two senior ANC MPs, Pravin Gordhan and Makhosi Khoza, on Tuesday called on President Jacob Zuma to step aside, as civil society agreed on a massive campaign to appeal to Parliamentarians to vote with their conscience in the upcoming motion of no confidence against Zuma next month.

Both Gordhan and Khoza have previously indicated they will vote with their conscience but the ANC laid down the law at its policy conference earlier this month, with head of organising Fikile Mbalula saying MPs had to vote according to the party line or face the consequences.

Despite his controversial removal from the finance ministry and his long-running battle with Zuma and the Gupta family, Gordhan had not directly called on him to step aside as president — until Tuesday.

All eyes are now on National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete, who is deciding whether the vote will be held in secret or not. She may take the decision only on the eve of the scheduled motion — set down for August 8 — and if she decides on an open vote, the motion may be again postponed as opposition parties are poised to challenge such a decision in court.

Gordhan, speaking to the Business Day on the sidelines of the Conference for the Future of SA in Randburg, said the legacy of former president Nelson Mandela was being thwarted by a "small group of people".

He was speaking about his comments at a Radio 702 Nelson Mandela legacy event at Lilliesleaf Farm earlier in the day.

"If we are to achieve the aspirations of the Mandela generation … then it is important that people like Mr Zuma step aside so that people who really want to take this country forward for all of the people of SA can get onto doing that," he said.

Zuma’s term as ANC president ends in December, but he is lobbying for former African Union commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him instead of his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

But Gordhan says Zuma should step down now due to the damage already wrought on the economy and the potential damage his remaining term in office could cause.

"SA needs to understand and evaluate more carefully what damage is being done to our economy — so, for example, all the various tenders and contracts and financial deals spoken about through the leaked e-mails are costing us money.

"The various state-owned enterprises are still continuing with what has come out in the public domain, so at what cost? Some say R40bn a year, it’s a lot of money and a lot of social good can be done with that money."

Gordhan said the ANC’s December conference would be but one "landmark" in the process to restore the country to the course set by Mandela.

Another "landmark or milestone" would be the August 8 motion of no confidence.

Khoza, speaking at the Conference for the Future of SA, made an impassioned plea for Zuma to step down. She told the 140 or so civil society organisations present of the pain she felt as an activist being led by a president like Zuma.

"I also find being led by a man who harvests women extremely intolerable," she said.

Zuma’s comments on "clever blacks" made her feel awkward. "This is a president, when black intellectuals express their views he calls them clever blacks…. I am black, I am clever, I am smart, I am educated and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is a president who has made us feel awkward for being black and smart."

Khoza has faced threats to her safety due to her outspoken criticism about Zuma. She said on Tuesday that if she did not "make it" to August 8, her message to him would be: "Mr President you are haunting the South African nation. Please Mr President step down."

The Conference for the Future of SA was aimed at uniting civil society, business and churches against state capture.

It resolved on Tuesday to launch a campaign to end state capture, with the August 8 motion of no confidence its first key battle.

The South African Council of Churches will co-ordinate efforts to get all MPs to restate their oath of office before their congregations to ensure they understand their responsibility to the country and the Constitution.

Mass protests are also scheduled for the run-up to the August 8 motion and on the day, should it not be postponed.

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