Former president Jacob Zuma has avoided a motion of no confidence in Parliament by resigning as head of state – although he still disagrees with the ANC’s decision to recall him.
“I do not fear exiting political office. However, I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions and the reason for its immediate instruction that I vacate office,” he said in a late-night address to the nation.
Zuma is the second consecutive ANC president to resign as head of state, after former president Thabo Mbeki stepped down in 2008.
Zuma barely made the 48-hour deadline set by the ANC for him to resign, taking to the podium at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for the last time as head of state late on Wednesday night.
He started his address joking with journalists, who had camped outside the Union Building since Wednesday morning and greeted them with his traditional chuckle.
“Why do you look serious, you can’t even say good evening. You are tired? We are working. He, he, he,” Zuma chuckled.
It was a more diplomatic Zuma on stage compared to the angry and revengeful man who was interviewed by the SABC earlier in the day.
During the interview, he had rebuked the party’s top six, including party president Cyril Ramaphosa and described the decision to recall him as “baseless and without fact”. Zuma accused the party leaders of failing to give him reasons for why he should step down.
Zuma had refused to voluntarily resign, instead demanding to stay in office until June. His demands were rejected by the ANC’s national executive committee, which held a 13-hour long meeting that ended in the early hours of Tuesday morning with the decision that Zuma should be recalled.
It forced the ANC to take the unprecedented step of agreeing to support a motion of no confidence by the EFF against its own president.
In the past, the party had described voting with the opposition as “the worst betrayal”.
Ironically, Zuma who was found to have failed to uphold the country’s Constitution by the Constitutional Court in the Nkandla matter, referred to the Constitution repeatedly during his resignation speech.
He said he governed within the prism of the Constitution and subscribed to its values.
Zuma made it clear he was not afraid to lose his presidential perks if he was removed through impeachment, nor did he fear losing a no confidence vote against him.
“Make no mistake, no leader should stay beyond the time determined by the people to serve. Most importantly no leader should seek an easy way out simply because they could not face life at the end of their term without the perks that come with political office. However, I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions and the reasons for its immediate instruction that I vacate office,” he said.
Instead, the best way to get rid of a president should be through constitutionally available mechanisms, including a vote of no confidence and impeachment, he said. Zuma said these were neither “embarrassing or humiliating” – seen as a reference to Ramaphosa, who had insisted that the party must avoid embarrassing Zuma.
“I fear no motion of no confidence and impeachment because they are lawful mechanisms for people of this country to remove their president,” Zuma said. He took jabs at the ANC’s divisions, saying “we tend to place the party above the supreme law, which is rule book of political engagement”.
“This constitutional line between party and state is often forgotten in the usual business of party contestation as we fight our own battles in the corridors of political power and sometimes, serving the very interest of the oppressors of yesterday, who joyfully celebrate as we lynch one another,” Zuma said.
He added that he will now dedicate his retirement to “attainment of the policies of our organisation, in particular radical economic transformation”.
The ANC NEC earlier affirmed Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor.
The National Assembly is expected to elect a new president, most likely Ramaphosa, on Thursday, who will then be sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng before delivering the State of the Nation Address on Friday.