After nine years in power, Jacob Zuma announced Wednesday he was immediately resigning from the office of president of South Africa. He outlasted scandal after scandal, but could not survive overt rejection by his party. The new leader of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, had made clear that Zuma’s time was up, and, had he not resigned, he would have been forced out by a vote of no-confidence. Zuma’s exit clears the path to power for Ramaphosa, who will become acting president.
But the dynamic that led to this moment—the contest for control of the party taking primacy over national elections—is not resolved by Zuma’s exit. The African National Congress has, critics allege, rested on its laurels since the end of the Nelson Mandela era in the late 1990s. Since then, it has managed to win more than 50 percent of the vote in every national election, which means whoever controls the party effectively controls the state.
Control of the state has come with healthy advantages. Zuma himself was forced to repay millions in official money illegally spent on upgrades to his home—just one of the scandals he survived in office. (Another, his suggestion that HIV transmission could be prevented by showering promptly after sex, became a lasting fixture in editorial cartoons about him.)