The fall of long-standing South African leader Jacob Zuma is now official.
For over nine years, Zuma has stood as the central figure in all South African policy decisions, maintaining a near-dictatorial rule over the country. Slowly but surely, the sea of corruption scandals Zuma has been engulfed in for years has finally brought his presidency to an end.
On Thursday, the office of South Africa’s speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete announced Zuma submitted his letter of resignation. This followed Zuma’s announcement to the nation earlier this week he was standing down after being instructed to do so by the ruling party, the African National Congress.
The former president’s nearly decade-long hold over South African politics was marked by exercising independent control over South Africa’s governmental makeup. Perhaps his most abhorrent act came in the months leading to the end of his presidency. In one fell swoop, Zuma reshuffled his entire government, replacing twenty high-level government officials that opposed him, including finance minister Pravin Gordhan - a move that instigated large-scale protests in major cities across the country. The incident renewed opposition calls for the president to resign and is considered one of the catalysts that lead to Zuma’s recent resignation. Reports on corruption in his executive dealings seemed to be never-ending. Among his more well-known scandals was the appearance of Zuma’s name in the infamous Panama Papers, a document which implicated him as a major player in an illicit network of government and private business dealings. Hundreds of individual corruption charges followed Zuma throughout the entire last year of his presidency.
Moving forward, one of the major aspects of Zuma’s legacy South Africans will have to deal with is the state of human rights in the country. Throughout his time as president, Zuma maintained an abysmal record on this issue. Almost immediately following news of Zuma’s resignation, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, issued a statement through her organization urging the new leadership to make the coming chapter a period of making human rights a priority. “During Jacob Zuma’s presidency, South Africa was blighted by serious human rights violations. His successor must do everything within his or her power to ensure that the state redresses this as a priority,” said Mohamed. Amnesty International urged that this shift must include not just a change of policy for the future, but also making amends for past actions. The organization cited the Marikana Massacre, the 2012 incident in which 34 striking mine workers were killed by police, as an example of justice that has yet to be served.
It is clear that South Africans are demanding a change in the way their government operates. Zuma’s departure offers evidence of the strength of South Africa’s political institutions as well as its citizenry. Headlines like “Going, Going, Gone” captured some of the exuberance of the South African people in finally being relieved of a profoundly corrupt leader. With any luck, the country will take the recently presented opportunity to springboard into a more stable, prosperous period.