JOHANNESBURG — South African President Jacob Zuma resigned Wednesday, putting an end to his scandal-tinged presidency after the ruling African National Congress party ordered him to step down or face a parliamentary vote to oust him.
Zuma, 75, made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying he stepped down despite disagreeing with the decision by the African National Congress (ANC) to leave office immediately.
“Of course, I must accept that if my party and my compatriots wish that I be removed from office, they must exercise that right and do so in the manner prescribed by the constitution,” Zuma said.
The ANC expressed gratitude for Zuma’s “loyal service” and encouraged party members to support Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now the country’s acting president. Ramaphosa is expected to be elected swiftly in a parliament vote and sworn in as leader of one of Africa’s biggest economies.
Zuma said earlier that he’s done nothing wrong and resisted the party's push to resign. That set the stage for his almost certain removal in a parliamentary vote scheduled for Thursday.
“I’m being victimized here,” Zuma said, complaining that Ramaphosa and other party leaders had not given him clear reasons why he should leave.
Zuma, who took office in 2009, has been embroiled in corruption scandals throughout most of his two terms. Late last year, South Africa's top court ruled that he violated the constitution when he paid for multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home with state funds.
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma resigns
A judicial commission could soon begin to examine allegations of influence peddling and illegal contracts to Zuma cronies. Prosecutors are also mulling reviving corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago.
On Wednesday, police raided the home of prominent business associates of Zuma accused of being at the center of the corruption scandals that have infuriated the country.
The ongoing scandals have sunk the popularity of the ANC, which holds stature as a key player that fought white minority rule and is credited with the dismantling of apartheid in 1991.
"He has really put the country in a state of turmoil," said Kealan Anderson, 25, a fiber optic technician in Johannesburg. "It will be in the best interest of the country for him to not be in charge."
Ebrahim Fakir, a political researcher and commentator here, noted that Zuma was forced out of office by the rule of law without violence — and not by a coup. .
"His resignation makes us exceptional on the African continent," Fakir said. "Zuma saved himself, but it did show that if he refused to go, the party, parliament and the constitution would have kicked in its safeguards."
Politicians from the party looking to next year's elections worry about the corruption probes.
"There is a question of the next election and people retaining their jobs, but it's also (about law enforcement) now starting to move forward on prosecutions and arrests," Fakir said. "There are two fears — a loss of support and also the shame and embarrassment of your people being caught."
Some voters, like Zubair Rwat, 40, said they will take a wait-and-see approach.
"This was simply the start of the ANC election campaign — a good start, nonetheless," said Rawat, an anesthesiologist in Johannesburg. "But to get my vote I want them all to be prosecuted and all the money retrieved."
Dana Toerien, 26, a scriptwriter in Johannesburg, is cautiously optimistic. "We need to see action rather than words before we can make any concrete judgments."
Zuma still has allies, especially in his home state of Kwazulu-Nata, and his legacy as a freedom fighter was revered. Zuma has been part of the ANC for almost six decades and led the intelligence arm of the movement's underground military wing. He was jailed for 10 years on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela, the country's first black president, was also held.
The ANC paid tribute to that legacy.
"Having taken the difficult decision to recall ... Zuma, the African National Congress nonetheless wants to salute the outstanding contribution he has made and express its profound gratitude to him for the role he has played ... spanning over 60 years of loyal service," the party said in a statement.
Durando reported from McLean, Va.