The scandal-tainted leader made the declaration in a televised address to the nation.
Zuma said he had resigned despite his disagreement with the instruction of the ruling African National Congress party to leave office immediately.
The ANC had been prepared to pursue a vote of no confidence in parliament tomorrow.
South Africa’s ruling party welcomed Zuma’s resignation, expressing gratitude for the leader’s “loyal service” and encouraging party members to support Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now the country’s acting president.
Zuma finally broke his silence after telling state broadcaster SABC he had been treated unfairly by the AFC, which had told him to resign after rejecting his request to stay in office for several more months.
“I’m being victimised here,” the 75-year-old said, complaining that Ramaphosa and other ANC leaders had not given him clear reasons about why he should go.
Zuma had survived previous motions against him, but this time he no longer had the support of the ruling party’s leadership.
Yesterday police raided the home of prominent business associates of Zuma who are accused of being at the centre of corruption scandals that have infuriated the country, hurt the ANC’s popularity and weakened the economy. An elite police unit entered the compound of the Gupta family, which has been accused of using its connections to the president to influence cabinet appointments and win state contracts. The Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
Several people were arrested during police operations, South African media reported. The ANC had accelerated efforts to end the country’s political limbo and push through a power transition in one of Africa’s biggest economies. The party wants Zuma to end his second five-year term early so that it can build up support ahead of 2019 elections.
Ruling party leaders outlined a speedy timetable, with Ramaphosa set to be elected in parliament to succeed Zuma in time to deliver the delayed state of the nation address on Friday evening. “We can no longer keep South Africa waiting,” said Paul Mashatile, the ANC’s treasurer general.
An opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence in Zuma had been scheduled for 22 February, but the ruling party joined opposition leaders in pushing for the date to be moved to this week in a rare show of unity among rival political factions. Ramaphosa, elected as the ANC’s new leader in December, has said the government will do more to fight the corruption that has damaged the ANC, which has led South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
As the Gupta-linked investigation proceeds, Zuma could also face corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago. South Africa’s chief prosecutor is expected to make a decision on whether to prosecute Zuma on the old charges, which were reinstated last year after being thrown out in 2009.
In another scandal, South Africa’s top court ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution following an investigation of multi-million dollar upgrades to his private home using state funds.
The president paid back some of the money. The ruling party’s decision to move against Zuma was welcomed as “long overdue” by the foundation of Thabo Mbeki, a former president who was instructed by the ANC to quit in 2008 during a dispute with Zuma, who was then party leader.
Mbeki did not contest the order and Zuma became president after elections the following year.