South African President Jacob Zuma resigns

Jacob Zuma resigns as president of South Africa, heeding orders by the ruling African National Congress to bring an end to his nine, scandal-plagued years in power.

Move comes just before almost-certain ouster in parliament following years of corruption scandals

South African President Jacob Zuma addresses the nation and press at the government's Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday. Zuma said he will resign 'with immediate effect.' (Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

Jacob Zuma resigned as president of South Africa on Wednesday, heeding orders by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to bring an end to his nine, scandal-plagued years in power.

In a 30-minute farewell address to the nation, 75-year-old Zuma said he disagreed with the way the ANC had shoved him towards an early exit after the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as party president in December, but would accept its orders.

The ANC should not be divided in my name.— Jacob Zuma

"I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect," Zuma said. "Even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organization, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC," he said.

The ruling party had said it would vote him out on Thursday. "No life should be lost in my name. And also the ANC should not be divided in my name," Zuma said.

The ANC, which replaced Zuma as party leader in December with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, ordered him to step down as president on Tuesday. When he failed to resign on Wednesday, it announced that it would back an opposition motion in parliament to force him out.

Party membership trying to oust Jacob Zuma from office 0:45

His resignation ends the career of the former anti-apartheid resistance fighter, 75, who has four wives, a sharp tongue and a decades-long history of entanglement in scandals that polarized Nelson Mandela's "Rainbow Nation."

The rand currency, which has gained ground whenever Zuma has hit political turbulence, soared more than one per cent to a two-and-a-half year high of 11.79 against the U.S. dollar during the day, as pressure piled on Zuma to resign.

Earlier in the day, a defiant Zuma told state broadcaster SABC that he had been treated unfairly by the ANC.

"I'm being victimized here," Zuma said, complaining that Ramaphosa, his apparent successor, and other ANC leaders had not given him clear reasons about why he should go.

"I need to be furnished on what I've done," he said. 

Zuma leaves his office in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 6. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

"Most South Africans have actually been on the edge of their seats for several days now, expecting that Jacob Zuma would resign — and most of the people we have spoken to seem to want that to happen," CBC's Margaret Evans reported from Cape Town. "But Jacob Zuma has never been known as someone to do what's expected of him."

Also Wednesday, police raided the home of prominent business associates of Zuma who are accused of being at the centre of corruption scandals that have infuriated the country, hurt the ANC's popularity and weakened the economy. An elite police unit entered the compound of the Gupta family, which has been accused of using its connections to the president to influence cabinet appointments and win state contracts. The Guptas deny any wrongdoing.

Police close off roads around the Gupta family's home in Johannesburg. (James Oatway/Reuters)

Several people were arrested during police operations, South African media reported.

Power transition

The ANC was accelerating efforts to end the country's political limbo and push through a power transition in one of Africa's biggest economies. The party wanted Zuma to end his second five-year term early so that it can build up support ahead of 2019 elections.

Ruling party leaders outlined a speedy timetable, with Ramaphosa set to be elected in parliament to succeed Zuma in time to deliver the delayed state of the nation address on Friday evening.

"We can no longer keep South Africa waiting," said Paul Mashatile, the ANC's treasurer general.

Zuma also could face corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago. South Africa's chief prosecutor is expected to make a decision on whether to prosecute Zuma on the old charges, which were reinstated last year after being thrown out in 2009.

In another scandal, South Africa's top court ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution following an investigation of multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home using state funds. The president paid back some of the money.

With files from CBC News and Associated Press