Jacob Zuma has resigned as president of South Africa, 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 nonetheless 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, Reuters reports.
Zuma's resignation brings certainty to a country gripped in a political drama for weeks, a senior official in the ANC said.
"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 ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte.
The ANC had called on Zuma to resign and told him that it would sack him via a parliamentary vote of no-confidence if he did not resign as police raided the luxury home of his powerful billionaire associates.
This decision was strongly supported by the South African Communist Party (SACP) which said in a statement:
"The SACP joins the great majority of South Africans, not least comrades across our Alliance in welcoming President Jacob Zuma’s belated resignation. This is something that should have happened a long time ago."
Zuma derided the decision and said he had been "victimized" by the party. "There's nothing I've done wrong," a relaxed but indignant Zuma said during a nearly hour-long interview with the SABC, South Africa's state broadcaster. "I don't think it's fair. I think it's unfair."
The ANC, which replaced Zuma as party leader in December, ordered him to step down as president. When he initially failed to resign, the party announced that it would back an opposition motion in parliament to force him out.
His subsequent u-turn has brought to an end nine years in power by 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."
Zuma spoke hours after the dramatic police raid on a gated mansion of the Gupta brothers, billionaire friends of the president who were accused two years ago in a 350-page report by South Africa's corruption watchdog of using their influence over the government to gain control of state companies and contracts.
Zuma did not comment on the police raids.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, elected to replace Zuma as head of the ANC in December, could be sworn in as head of state as early as Friday.
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 11.79 against the US dollar.
Ramaphosa, 66, 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 widely seen as a conciliatory figure who could help heal divisions that widened under Zuma.
The pace of events stunned South Africa after months of political wrangling and two weeks of dithering by the ANC. The early morning raid, which the police's elite Hawks unit said resulted in three arrests, took place amid reports Zuma was preparing to tell the country he was stepping down.
The SABC 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.
However, a Gupta family lawyer said none of the Gupta brothers were among those held. "I can't tell you who has been arrested," the lawyer told Reuters. Zuma and the Guptas, a family of wealthy Indian-born businessmen, deny any wrongdoing.
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.
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said the raid was part of an investigation into influence-peddling, also the focus of a judicial inquiry into wider corruption involving the Guptas, dubbed "state capture" in the watchdog's 2016 report.
"We're not playing around in terms of making sure that those who are responsible in the so-called state capture, they take responsibility for it," Mulaudzi said.