South African president Jacob Zuma resigned from office Wednesday night, bringing an end to a long-running fight for political survival he lost control of after standing down as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last December.
“I have come to the decision to resign as president with immediate effect, Even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organisation, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC,” he said in a live television address from the ANC’s headquarters Luthuli House.
Mr Zuma's grip on power has slowly ebbed away in the two months since he was replaced as the ANC's leader by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Mr Ramaphosa, who has promised to renew and unity the ANC under his leadership, will be sworn in as South Africa’s acting president in parliament over the coming days.
With numerous allegations of corruption hanging over him, Mr Zuma, who had been South Africa's president since 2009, came under increasing pressure to give way to his successor before his terms was up next year.
Many observers believe the ANC is desperate to get rid of him before it begins campaigning for next year’s general elections, due to the effect his negative image could have on voters.
After more than a week of exit negotiations earlier this month with Mr Ramaphosa that were designed to secure his voluntary resignation, it appeared the talks had been derailed over Mr Zuma’s desire to see out a notice period of between three and six months.
A motion of no confidence tabled by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was due to be put to the vote in parliament on Thursday, and the ANC’s parliamentary caucus had indicated it would support it if Mr Zuma refused to resign voluntarily.
In a statement issued directly after Mr Zuma’s address, the ANC said the outgoing president’s resignation provided “certainty to the people of South Africa”.
Because Mr Zuma resigned willingly, Mr Ramaphosa, who was also the country’s deputy president, becomes acting president. A new president must still be elected in 30 days, but the presidency and cabinet continues its work in government.
Mr Zuma, who is 75, has been a member of the ANC since 1959. He was member of the ANC’s military wing and rose up the ranks to become the head of ANC intelligence during the fight against apartheid.
Earlier the ANC parliamentary caucus had confirmed that its members would support an opposition-tabled motion of no confidence in the president if he refused to stand down by 11pm on Wednesday.
The EFF motion had originally been scheduled for February 22nd, but speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete agreed to an EFF request to bring it forward.
Earlier this month Mr Zuma and Mr Ramaphosa were involved in negotiations designed to secure the South African president’s voluntary resignation. However, the talks were reportedly derailed because of the demands Mr Zuma made in return for his exit.
According to both camps, Mr Zuma’s insistence that he serve a notice period of about three to six months before leaving was at the crux of the impasse.
On Tuesday, the ANC’s top decision-making body, the national executive committee, finally decided to officially recall Mr Zuma on the grounds he was refusing to resign voluntarily.
In his interview Mr Zuma said he wanted to the extra time to oversee a handover process between his successor, Mr Ramaphosa, and continental bodies like the African Union and the South African Development Community.
However, the ANC has said it cannot wait any longer for a change in leadership, and one way or another Mr Zuma’s time as president was coming to an end.
Mr Zuma stands accused of widespread corruption. Many observers believe the ANC was desperate to get rid of him before beginning the campaign for next year’s general elections, due to the effect his negative image could have on voters.
As the political drama unfolded around Mr Zuma, the controversial Gupta brothers, three India-born businessmen accused of using their relationship with him to illegally secure billions of rand in state contracts, were also dealt a heavy blow.
Police have confirmed that a member of the Gupta family and a close associate were among three people arrested during an early-morning raid at their Saxonworld home in Johannesburg. – Additional reporting: Reuters