South Africa, the most economically advanced and politically stable African country, was in the midst of a controversy, but things finally appear to have worked themselves out with the resignation of President Jacob Zuma. The controversial president had been the subject of corruption charges and even a rape charge, even before he took office seven years ago.
Zuma has been a politician of nine lives, surviving a series of scandals which would have surely ended anyone else’s career and nine votes of no confidence by the parliment. But Zuma, the man born into poverty who went into exile to fight apartheid before rising to become “the people’s president”, couldn’t survive forever.
Zuma’s scandal-plagued years in power darkened and divided Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid ‘Rainbow Nation.’ In his second and final term, he was no longer leader of the ruling African National Congress, and charges of corruption – always vehemently denied – caught up with him.
Central to the public anger had been the persistent allegations – now the focus of a judicial commission – that Zuma let his friends the Guptas use their relationship with him to win state contracts and even influence cabinet appointments.
Zuma and the three Gupta brothers, who were born in India but moved to South Africa in the early 1990s, have denied any wrongdoing.
In addition to the massive Gupta-related “state capture” scandal, many South Africans were outraged by a state-funded $16 million security upgrade to Zuma’s rural Nkandla home that included a cattle kraal and swimming pool.
In addition, heading up to his election in 2009, Zuma was able to prevail in a rape charge of an HIV positive guest who stayed overnight at his home.
The vote by the African National Congress to oust Zuma came after several weeks of formal negotiations, followed by 13 hours of tense deliberations and one, short face-to-face exchange between Zuma and his presumed successor, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist with no formal education, has been living on borrowed time since Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer once tipped as Mandela’s pick to take over the reins, was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December. Ramaphosa has been the nation’s deputy president since 2014
In December, Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,
in the leadership vote, forcing him to tread carefully in handling Zuma for fear of deepening rifts in the party a year ahead of an election.
ANC members argued Ramaphosa should become the nation’s leader as soon as possible, to rebuild the ANC ahead of the 2019 national elections in 2019 and to woo back voters disillusioned by the years of corruption, scandals and mismanagement under Mr. Zuma.
Opposition parties increased pressure on Ramaphosa and the ANC on Monday, holding a joint news conference to demand that national elections, scheduled for mid-2019, be called early. They pushed for a motion of no confidence in Parliament to be moved up from Feb. 22 to this week.
If Ramaphosa had been unable to conclude talks with Mr. Zuma before a no-confidence vote, A.N.C. lawmakers would have faced two unattractive options: voting with the opposition, which would have taken credit for bringing down Mr. Zuma, or support Mr. Zuma.
In South Africa, the Parliament, which is dominated by the A.N.C., selects the nation’s president. But the party’s national executive committee had the power to get Zuma to step down, and he finally did, likely to to avoid a humiliating outcome in Parliament.
News reports said that Mr. Zuma may have pressed for the state to pay any legal costs that arise from future proceedings. Another report said Zuma had asked for three months to resign, a request that was denied. After his resignation announcement, Zuma said he disagreed with the decision of his political party and that he has always been a “disciplined member of the ANC.”
“As I leave I will continue to serve the people of South Africa as well as the ANC, the organization I have served all of my life in,” Zuma said.