JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Jacob Zuma resigned as President of South Africa on Wednesday, reluctantly 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 toward an early exit after the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as party president in December, but would accept its orders.
“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.
His resignation came just hours after police raided the luxury home of the Gupta family, Indian-born billionaire allies of the president who have been at the center of corruption allegations against Zuma and his circle for years. Zuma and the Guptas have always denied wrongdoing.
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.
His resignation ends the career of the former anti-apartheid resistance fighter, 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 percent to a 2-1/2 year high of 11.66 against the dollar during the day, as pressure piled on Zuma to resign.
His party hailed his decision to go.
“This decision provides certainty to the people of South Africa at a time when economic and social challenges to the country require an urgent and resolute response,” said the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said before Zuma announced his resignation that Ramaphosa could be sworn in as new head of state as early as Friday. Ramaphosa, 65, was the ANC’s chief negotiator with South Africa’s apartheid rulers during the talks that led to the end of white rule, and is seen as a conciliatory figure who could help heal divisions that widened under Zuma.
Hours before Zuma’s resignation, South Africa was captivated by news of the early morning raid on the compound of his allies the Guptas, who were accused two years ago in a 350 page report by a corruption watchdog of using their influence to gain control of state companies and contracts.
The SABC, South Africa’s state broadcaster, said a Gupta family member was among those detained. A senior judicial source said police expected to arrest up to seven more people and that Gupta family members would be among them.
“You can’t bring a matter of this nature to court and not charge the people who have benefited the most,” the source, who has knowledge of the police’s moves, told Reuters.
A Gupta family lawyer told Reuters none of the Gupta brothers were among those held.
The police said the raid was in connection with a state-funded dairy farm, which prosecutors last month called a “scheme designed to defraud and steal”.
Prosecutors have seized 220 million rand ($19 million) in state funds allocated to the project and froze bank accounts of one of the Gupta brothers, Atul Gupta. The Guptas’ lawyer declined to comment on the case.
Shortly after dawn, a dozen Hawks police officers sealed off a street leading to the Gupta mansion in Johannesburg’s upscale Saxonwold suburb. One blocked access to Reuters, saying: “This is a crime scene.”
Minutes later, an unmarked police van left the compound as residents applauded police officers and hurled abuse at security guards for the Guptas.
“Finally something is being done about it. These guys must get out of our country. They must leave us alone. They have done enough damage,” said Tessa Turvey, head of the local residents’ association, standing outside the compound’s iron gates.
Police also raided the Guptas’ Oakbay holding company in Johannesburg’s Sandton financial district, according to a security guard outside the building.
Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Alex Winning, Mfuneko Toyana, Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Editing by Peter Graff