South Africa readied to welcome wealthy former businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as its new president on Thursday after scandal-tainted Jacob Zuma resigned under intense pressure from his own party.
Mr Zuma announced he had stepped down in a late-night television address in which he took some digs at the African National Congress (ANC) party that had threatened to oust him via a parliament no-confidence vote.
In a 30-minute speech, Mr Zuma said he had “come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect.”
“I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions and the reason for its immediate instruction that I vacate office,” he said.
Mr Zuma, 75, has been in a lengthy power struggle with Mr Ramaphosa, his deputy.
Mr Ramaphosa, who won control of the ANC when he was elected as its head in December, is likely to be voted in by parliament as South Africa's new president on Thursday or Friday.
Mr Zuma, in an earlier TV interview on Wednesday, said he had received "very unfair" treatment from the party that he joined in 1959 and in which he had fought for decades against apartheid white-minority rule.
He said he was angered over “the manner in which the decision is being implemented... I don't agree, as there is no evidence of if I have done anything wrong.”
The party’s national executive committee ordered Zuma recall from office on Tuesday, after a 13-hour meeting at a hotel outside Pretoria, but he refused at first .
ANC officials had said that if the president did not resign, the party’s lawmakers in the Cape Town parliament would vote him out on Thursday.
But senior party official Jesse Duarte said after the resignation that “we are not celebrating.”
“We have had to recall a cadre of the movement that has served this organisation for over 60 years, it’s not a small matter,” she added.
Mr Zuma, who had no formal education, was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela under apartheid and rose through the ranks of the ANC to take power in 2009.
But his rule was dominated by graft scandals, economic slowdown and falling popularity for the celebrated liberation party.
Local media reported that Zuma had been pushing for a resignation deal that included his legal fees to fight multiple criminal charges – but he denied the allegations yesterday.
One case against him relates to 783 payments he allegedly received that linked to an arms deal before he came to power.
The political wrangling of recent weeks plunged South Africa – the continent’s most developed economy – into confusion over who was running the country, with last Thursday’s annual State of the Nation address cancelled at the last-minute.
Mr Zuma was scheduled to stand down next year after serving the maximum two terms since coming to power in 2009.
In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral result since coming to power in 1994 with Mandela at the helm as white-minority rule fell.