JOHANNESBURG, Feb 13 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling party ordered Jacob Zuma on Tuesday to step down as head of state after marathon talks over the fate of a leader whose scandal-plagued years in power darkened and divided Nelson Mandela's post-apartheid 'Rainbow Nation'.
Leading members of the African National Congress now wanted the party's new leader Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Zuma as president, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule told journalists.
But the ANC national executive was split on precisely when Zuma should go, Magashule added.
Magashule said he had met Zuma personally to pass on the decision. "We haven't given him any deadline to respond ... the organization expects him to go," he said.
See images of Zuma as president:
President Jacob Zuma leaves Tuynhuys, the office of the Presidency at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
South Africa?s President Jacob Zuma arrives for the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) dances with president of south Africa Jacob Zuma (R) and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma during the Congress' 106th anniversary celebrations, in East London, South Africa, January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko 2pts
President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South African President Jacob Zuma meets with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at Dr John Dube residence in Durban, South Africa, January 11, 2018. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma reacts during a tour of the Nasrec Expo Centre where the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
President of South Africa Jacob Zuma attends the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma tours the Nasrec Expo Centre where the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma speaks during the Energy Indaba conference in Midrand, South Africa, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, November 2, 2017. Picture taken November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
South African President Jacob Zuma listens to a speech during the Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries in Xiamen in southeastern Chinaï¿½ Fujian Province Sept. 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. Picture taken August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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The decision to order Zuma's "recall" - ANC-speak for 'remove from office' - followed 13 hours of tense deliberations and one short face-to-face exchange between Zuma and Ramaphosa.
Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist with no formal education, has been living on borrowed time since Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer once tipped as Mandela's pick to take over the reins, was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December.
Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Zuma's ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the leadership vote, forcing him to tread carefully in handling Zuma for fear of deepening rifts in the party a year ahead of an election.
Despite the damning decision to order Zuma's "recall" - domestic media say the 75-year-old might yet defy the party's wishes, forcing it into the indignity of having to unseat him in parliament.
On Friday, one of Zuma's wives, Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, posted comments on Instagram suggesting Zuma, who has challenged and defied multiple attempts by the ANC and courts to rein him in, was prepared to go down fighting. The post even suggested Zuma believed he was the victim of a Western conspiracy.
"He will finish what he started because he does not take orders beyond the Atlantic Ocean," she said.
South Africa's economy, the most sophisticated on the continent, has stagnated during Zuma's nine-year tenure, with banks and mining companies reluctant to invest because of policy uncertainty and rampant corruption.
However, since mid-November when Ramaphosa emerged as a real ANC leadership prospect, economic confidence has started to pick up, while the rand - a telling barometer of Zuma's fortunes - has gained more than 15 percent against the dollar. (Additional reporting by James Macharia; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Heavens)