In a 30-minute farewell address to the nation, 75-year-old Zuma 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, but would accept its orders.
“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 said.
The ruling party had said it would vote him out on Thursday.
“No life should be lost in my name. And also the ANC should not be divided in my name,” Zuma said.
His resignation came just hours after police raided the luxury home of the Gupta family, Indian-born billionaire allies of the president who have been at the centre of corruption allegations against Zuma and his circle for years. Zuma and the Guptas have always denied wrongdoing.
The ANC, which replaced Zuma as party leader in December with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ordered him to step down as president on Tuesday.
When he failed to resign on Wednesday, it announced that it would back an opposition motion in parliament to force him out.
His resignation ends the career of the former anti-apartheid resistance fighter, who has four wives, a sharp tongue and a decades-long history of entanglement in scandals that polarized Nelson Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”.
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 11.66 against the dollar during the day, as pressure piled on Zuma to resign.
His party hailed his decision to go.
“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 the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte.