Cyril Ramaphosa elected as South Africa’s president

South Africa has a new president after scandal-hit Jacob Zuma heeded calls by his own party to resign.

Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, was elected to replace Zuma following a parliamentary vote on Thursday.

He faces a number of challenges including winning back public and investor support after his predecessor’s nine-year reign, which was blighted by infighting in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement.

Ramaphosa’s rise to the top post has come after weeks of difficult discussions to convince Zuma to quit. He had to strike a balance between applying pressure on Zuma, 75, and affording him a dignified exit.

Ramaphosa also had to avoid alienating ANC members still loyal to Zuma, despite dwindling electoral support for the party.

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA)

The solitary figure belongs to Derek Hanekom – the first ANC NEC member to propose a motion that now former president Jacob Zuma be removed, the former tourism minister booted out of Cabinet with his confidant, Pravin Gordhan, in a dramatic, late-night Cabinet reshuffle last March, the vocal Zuma and Guptas critic, and the equally vocal supporter of newly-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu walks over to his DA counterpart, John Steenhuisen, and DA MP’s Anchen Dreyer and Dean Macpherson, for what seems like a friendly exchange.

Shortly before 14:00 most of the seats are filled, including the seat reserved for the deputy president, where a somewhat tired looking acting president Cyril Ramaphosa takes his seat.

The ANC chief whip has a quick chat with him, as well as some other ANC members.

With most of the seats taken, there is a gap where the EFF MPs sit. As some ANC backbenchers start singing, the EFF marches in, also singing.

Speaker Baleka Mbete asks the House to quiet down a few times.

Among those whose seats remain empty, are Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi and Social Services Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

There is a loud cheer, mostly from the opposition benches, when Mbete announces that she has received Jacob Zuma’s resignation letter.

She says there is only one item on the agenda – the election of a new president.

As she tries to get proceedings underway, a now familiar scene plays itself out: EFF MPs raising points of order, Mbete saying she can’t entertain them, EFF MPs getting angry and Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu yelling and pointing at them.

“Ramaphosa recognised you long ago!” EFF leader Julius Malema growls to her during one of their exchanges.

While the EFF argues that his election as president would be illegitimate, Ramaphosa sits serenely with a slight smile.

The EFF charges out of the House amid cheers from the ANC benches, and the proceedings get underway, with Mbete relinquishing her seat to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to preside over the election.

Leaders from each party are then allowed a few words, with DA leader and official leader of the opposition Mmusi Maimane getting the first bite of the cherry.

He congratulates Ramaphosa on his election as state President and says the DA will support him if he acts in the interests of the people.

“We don’t have a Jacob Zuma problem, we have an ANC problem,” he said, a phrase he has used a lot lately.

As he criticises the ANC for not acting earlier against Zuma, a few groans emerge from the ANC benches.

“Mr Cyril Ramaphosa I wish you all the best, but I will see you in 2019 on the ballot boxes,” he adds.

IFP chief whip Narend Singh apologises that his party’s leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi couldn’t attend the event as his flight had been rescheduled.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa starts his speech in isiXhosa, saying he used a shibobo (the football term for passing a ball through an opponent’s legs, also called a nutmeg) and that Ramaphosa is sitting on the wrong seat, much to Ramaphosa’s amusement.

“Hallelujah!” say some ANC backbenchers when ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe remarks that Ramaphosa will need wisdom from God.

FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald says there is a perception that South Africa now has a better president than it did before.

“But it’s not difficult to be better than Jacob Zuma,” he adds. Ramaphosa laughs.

Every party’s speaker congratulates Ramaphosa, and the golden thread through their speeches is that Ramaphosa should clamp down on corruption and bring unity.

Otherwise engaged, a few benches from him, sits Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, intently staring at his tablet on which brightly coloured blocks appeared and explode. Even while Mthembu speaks, Gigaba occupies himself with this. But when Ramaphosa stands up to speak, Gigaba flips the tablet’s cover closed.

“I am truly humbled to be given this great privilege to serve our people,” Ramaphosa says.

Ramaphosa addresses each of the MPs who spoke, without derision, without mocking their accents, without playing a victim.

To Maimane he says he won’t have to wait to 2019 to see him at the ballot box, he will be seen regularly in Parliament.

He says Holomisa stills calls him SG, and he still calls Holomisa general, from the time they served in the ANC together. He adds he and Meshoe belonged to the same church group when they were students.

After Ramaphosa concludes and Mbete adjourns the House, he is swamped by opposition MPs to congratulate him, with Maimane one of the first to hug him and Steenhuisen handing him a cigar.

Finally, Ramaphosa is left alone on the National Assembly Chamber’s floor with Mthembu, House chairperson Cedric Frolick and ANC MP Gerhard Koornhof by his side.