Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, has resigned after days of defying orders from the ruling African National Congress to leave office and on the eve of a no-confidence vote in parliament.
In a televised address to the nation late on Wednesday, the 75-year-old said he was a disciplined member of the ANC, to which he had dedicated his life.
“I fear no motion of no confidence or impeachment … I will continue to serve the people of South Africa and the ANC. I will dedicate my life to continuing to work for the execution of the policies of our organisation,” Zuma said.
“No life should be lost in my name. The ANC should never been divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect.”
The resignation ended an extraordinary day in South African politics, which had begun with a dawn raid on a business family at the centre of the recent corruption allegations levelled at Zuma.
At noon, ANC officials announced they would vote for an opposition party’s no-confidence motion in parliament on Thursday.
Late in the afternoon, Zuma gave an angry and rambling TV interview to justify his refusal to obey his own party’s order to step down.
But his speech was more confident and warm.
The president started with a joke with journalists about the late hour, and his trademark chuckle. He expressed his gratitude to the ANC and South Africans for the privilege of serving them at the “pinnacle” of public life, before saying thank you and goodbye in three local languages.
Zuma’s resignation leaves the path clear for deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the leadership of the ANC in December, to be elected by parliament to the highest office.
Zuma, a former anti-apartheid activist who has led the ANC since 2007 and been South Africa’s president since 2009, was due to leave power next year.
His tenure has been marred by economic decline and multiple charges of graft that have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994.