New South African President Sworn In

THE deputy leader of South Africa’s ruling party Kgalema Motlanthe was yesterday sworn in as president, replacing Thabo Mbeki.

 

Motlanthe won three-quarters of the votes cast by MPs in a secret ballot in parliament in Cape Town.

There were loud cheers in the national assembly as the chief justice announced that Motlanthe had secured 269 of 368 votes cast.

His challenger, Joe Seremane, of the opposition Democratic Alliance, got just 50 votes in a parliament heavily dominated by the ANC.

However, there were 41 spoiled papers, suggesting protest by some parliamentarians.

A veteran of the African National Congress (ANC), Motlanthe said he was “deeply humbled” by the outcome.

The new president is seen as a figure who can help ease tensions between supporters of Mbeki and ANC president Jacob Zuma.

He will serve until polls next year, when Zuma is widely expected to become president.

Zuma is not an MP and so was not eligible to be elected president.

He watched yesterday’s vote from the public gallery.

Mbeki announced his resignation on Sunday amid claims of political interference in a corruption case against Zuma.

He denies the allegations, but said he was stepping down in the interests of party unity, as the ANC leadership said it was recalling him.

One of Motlanthe’s tasks will be to ensure a smooth political transition given the talk of feuding and divisions within the ANC.

In his first speech as president, Motlanthe vowed that the country’s economic policies would not change, and that he would intensify efforts to create more jobs.

“In a turbulent global economy, we will remain true to the policies that have kept South Africa steady, and that have ensured sustained growth,” he said.

Motlanthe is a long-serving member of the party hierarchy and a man generally seen as a safe pair of hands. During the apartheid years he was imprisoned on Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela.

After his release in 1987, he became a top official of the National Union of Mineworkers and then the ANC, although he only became an MP in May this year.

Mbeki had been invited to attend the parliamentary session but declined.

Mbeki’s departure led to a flurry of resignations from the cabinet and caused uncertainty on the markets.

The widely-respected Finance minister Trevor Manuel was among 11 cabinet ministers who resigned, but he has said he would be happy to serve a new president.

Corruption charges against Zuma were thrown out by a court earlier this month on a legal technicality.

It remains unclear whether they will be pressed for a third time. — BBC News.

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