South Africans awoke to a nation without Jacob Zuma as president for the first time in nine years on Thursday, released from the burden of a compromised leader who darkened the dreams and aspirations of the post-apartheid “Rainbow Nation”.
The road back to prosperity and self-respect will be long and hard in a nation so divided by race and inequality but Zuma’s ultimate demise proved the enduring strength of its institutions, from the courts to the media and the constitution.
Zuma reluctantly resigned as head of state late on Wednesday on orders from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), bringing an end to his nine scandal-plagued years in power.
The 75-year-old Zuma said in a 30-minute farewell address to the nation he disagreed with the way the ANC had shoved him towards an early exit after the election of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as party president in December, but would accept its orders.
“Defiant in defeat” and “Going, Going, Gone” were some of the newspaper headlines that captured Zuma’s reluctance to leave.
“South Africa’s long nightmare is over,” read the headline of an analysis on online news site Daily Maverick
The ANC hailed Zuma’s decision to resign.
Ramaphosa, the interim head of state after Zuma’s resignation, is widely expected to be appointed by parliament as permanent president until elections next year.
The rand currency, which has gained ground whenever Zuma hit political turbulence, soared to a near three-year high against the dollar on Zuma’s resignation.
“One chapter in South Africa’s political soap-opera has finally ended with the resignation last night of President Jacob Zuma,” NKC African Economics analysts wrote in a note.
“It would be gratifying to see the dedication and purpose the ANC put into ridding itself of Zuma now be directed into rebuilding the economy, dealing with the corruption still residing in the ANC and improving its shoddy governance record.”
Zuma’s resignation came just hours after police raided the luxury home of the Gupta family, Indian-born billionaire allies of the former 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.
Police said on Wednesday three people were arrested during the raids on various properties in Johannesburg.
State broadcaster SABC said a Gupta family member was among those detained, while a senior judicial source said police were expected to arrest up to seven more people and that Gupta family members would be among them.
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”.
The suspects were expected to appear in court on Thursday.