“I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect,” Zuma said in a televised address.
“Even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organisation, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC.”
Zuma quit on the eve of a scheduled debate on the ninth no confidence motion brought against him by the opposition. On Wednesday afternoon, the ANC had resolved to vote in favour of the motion after giving him 48 hours to resign on Monday evening. He did so less than an hour before the deadline lapsed.
Zuma was recalled by the ANC weeks after he ceded the leadership of the party to Cyril Ramaphosa. But unlike Mbeki who resigned in a statesman-like address on national television in September 2008, Zuma refused to go quietly, initially telling the ANC’s top leadership that it would lose the national elections in 2019 without him at the helm.The dominant faction in the party had made a different calculation and refused to squander further support.
The state of the local economy was also a major push-factor, with financial markets showing the rand strengthening some 18 percent to the US dollar since Ramaphosa took control of the ANC in December. With a review of the country’s credit rating by Moody’s due in March, the risk of allowing a desperate Zuma to deliver a populist state-of-the-nation address that would dent investor confidence was too great.
Hence the ANC finally moved to “self correct” – the term it had employed in the ten months since Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister and senior figures in the party publicly turned against him.
The ANC National Executive Committee on Monday night made a decision to recall Zuma from office and this was reinforced on Wednesday when the party’s parliamentary caucus agreed to support an amended motion of no confidence – initially brought by the Economic Freedom Fighters – should Zuma still refuse to step down voluntarily. In the end, Zuma formally announced his resignation at around 11pm during a live television broadcast.
On August 8 last year, Zuma narrowly survived a vote of no confidence after a number of ANC MPs defied a three-line whip and voted with the opposition. But six months later, his bid to impose his preferred candidate at the head of the fractured party had failed and Ramaphosa had the upper hand.
His exit was as messy as Mbeki’s was orderly, in line with their political legacies.