Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the ruling African National Congress, became Acting President after Zuma caved to pressure to stand down over longstanding corruption allegations.
Ramaphosa is widely expected to be confirmed as Zuma’s formal successor when Parliament meets later Thursday. Before any vote is held, Zuma’s resignation letter must be formally submitted to the National Assembly Speaker.
Speaking to CNN immediately after Zuma’s resignation, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane, said his party would be nominating its own presidential candidate.
Zuma resigned in a nationally televised address Wednesday where he said he’d been disturbed about the “instances of violence” outside the party’s headquarters.
“No life should be lost in my name and also the ANC should never be divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as President of the Republic with immediate effect,” Zuma said.
“Even though I disagree with the decision of the Leadership of my organization, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC,” he added.
Parliament had been due to hold a no-confidence vote on Thursday to remove Zuma from office.
In his resignation speech, the former leader said he didn’t fear a motion of no confidence or impeachment because “they are the lawful mechanisms for the people of this beautiful country to remove their President.”
As Acting President, Ramaphosa is the leading candidate to assume office, but opposition parties are expected to field their own candidates in a bid to challenge the ANC’s decades-long dominance.
Maimane said the Democratic Alliance would be seeking to dissolve parliament to get a fresh mandate from South African voters.
“We don’t believe Cyril Ramaphosa is the solution for South Africa. So initially we propose that parliament must be dissolved so that we can go back and get a fresh mandate from the people of South Africa because we think that the ANC has been complicit in defending Jacob Zuma and without doubt we will put forward a candidate,” Maimane said.
Ramaphosa was elected to head the African Nation Congress in December with a pledge to tackle corruption and the myriad of other problems facing the country.
“We want to clean up South Africa so that we can begin to make it more attractive to investors but at the same time to deal with the issues that are impeding growth,” Ramaphosa told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview last month.
The economy has been lagging since the 2008 global financial crisis, and inequality is on the rise. Cape Town, a city of 4 million people, is suffering from a severe drought and is expected to run out of water in June.
Ramaphosa, one of Mandela’s closest confidants, took up political activism in the 1970s, according to his biography on the ANC website. He made his name as a trade union leader during the apartheid era and as the chief negotiator for the ANC during the tense political transition.
When Mandela’s presidency came to a close, he made it clear that he wanted Ramaphosa to succeed him. Ramaphosa lost the race to lead the ANC, and therefore the country, to Thabo Mbeki, another anti-apartheid leader who returned to South Africa after living in exile.
Ramaphosa left government and made a fortune in business. Since returning to public life, he has become openly critical of the levels of corruption in the country and has significant support in urban areas, among the business community and ANC stalwarts.
Now, Ramaphosa believes the anti-corruption campaign will reinvigorate supporters of the ANC who were previously disillusioned with the party.
“This is not a flash in the pan,” Ramaphosa said. “We are going to make sure that we do not disappoint our people.”