Before his much-anticipated speech started, former president Jacob Zuma playfully asked journalists present at the late-night announcement why they looked so serious and followed that with his signature chuckle, knowing full well what the country was expecting of him that night.
He is known for his jovial light-hearted conduct and signature laugh, but once his speech began South Africans bounced back and forth trying to establish whether they would hear the final words - “I have decided to resign”
Ten years ago, South Africans were also glued to their television sets as former president Thabo Mbeki delivered the very same news.
Looking at both former presidents' exit speeches, one thing stands out for most political analysts- Mbeki bowed out gracefully, while Zuma was defiant until the very end.
It is not unbelievable that both speeches carried tones that were worlds apart as both former presidents may have been loyal to the ANC but they were not cut from the same green, gold and black cloth.
Political analyst Imraan Buccus described Mbeki as very philosophical. Seen as an aristocrat, Mbeki always carried himself with grace while Zuma lacked bits of integrity in his farewell, he said.
“Mbeki has great intellectual gravitas and it is no surprise that he was deeply philosophical about his work and in announcing his resignation,” Buccus said.
Imagine a father telling his children that he was divorcing their mother; Mbeki spoke with care and in a low-toned, apologetic voice.
He announced his resignation within the first five minutes of speaking. He spoke of the values, vision and principles that guided him such as ubuntu, and paid homage to the people who taught the liberation movement those principles such as Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
He delivered a well-constructed speech that included the economic transformation and many other achievements under his presidency.
He defended the judiciary and called on South Africans to respect it and he thanked all those who contributed to the strengthening of the democracy. Mbeki even lauded the incoming administration.
“I am convinced that the incoming administration will better the work done during the past 14-and-half years so that poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, illiteracy, challenges of health, crime and corruption will cease to define the lives of many of our people,” he said in his speech.
His 52 years in the ANC as a loyal cadre were clearly depicted in his final words. “Although the decisions to remove Mbeki from his seat were taken hastily, he still managed to develop a very good speech. It portrayed him as someone born and bred in the ANC.
“His speech also showed that he was more accepting of the decision to recall him and he showed respect of the commands of the ANC,” said political analyst Thabani Khumalo.
On the one hand, South Africa watched a president leave with his dignity, albeit forcefully, while this week the republic watched a man show his stubbornness and refusal to accept his party's decision, said Khumalo. “As Zuma started his speech, I thought this man was not going to resign. He was defiant all the way,” Khumalo said.
Although both former presidents were quite significantly different, Khumalo said he expected that the one common factor between them would be confirmation that they were disciplined cadres.
“That was not the case,” he said. "In his speech Zuma said, 'I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the Republic with immediate effect. Even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organisation, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC.' His bold disobedience was further noted when he said, 'I fear no motion of no-confidence or impeachment'."
He also questioned his party's decisions.“I do not fear exiting political office. However, I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions and the reason for its immediate instruction that I vacate office.”
Buccus said Zuma's lack of integrity and unapologetic speech were in line with his failed presidency.
“It is sad because Zuma made a massive contribution to ensuring our freedom from apartheid. That was all obliterated, and after that speech I find it may be impossible to rescue his legacy,” Buccus said.