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S.Africa's Ramaphosa sworn in for second full term as president

Gersende Rambourg
20 June 2024, MVT 19:09
South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa attends the oath of office ceremony for his second term as South African President at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on June 19, 2024. -- Photo: Kim Ludbrook / Pool / AFP
Gersende Rambourg
20 June 2024, MVT 19:09

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed "the beginning of a new era" on Wednesday as he was sworn in for a second full term after his weakened African National Congress (ANC) struck a hard-won government coalition deal to remain in power.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to re-elect the 71-year-old last week after a May 29 general election produced no outright winner for the first time in three decades.

"The formation of a government of national unity is a moment of profound significance. It is the beginning of a new era," Ramaphosa said, after taking the oath during a ceremony at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in Pretoria.

Speaking before lawmakers, foreign dignitaries, religious and traditional leaders and cheering supporters, Ramaphosa said voters did not give any party a full mandate to govern alone.

"They have directed us to work together to address their plight and realise their aspirations," he said.

Numerous heads of state, including Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Angola's Joao Lourenco, Congo Brazzaville's Denis Sassou Nguesso and Eswatini's absolute leader King Mswati III attended the inauguration.

After Ramaphosa was sworn in, a band played the national anthem, followed by a 21-gun salute and a fly past by the air force.

In what observers said will be a "first test" for the coalition, the president is expected to announce his cabinet in the coming days, as talks among members continue.

"The tough part starts now," political analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.

Ramaphosa will have to balance demands for key ministerial posts from his party and its new allies and mediate diverging views to come up with a common policy agenda on the economy and much else in a relatively short timeframe, he said.

The coalition includes the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA), the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party -- both historic ANC rivals -- the anti-immigration Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the small centre-left GOOD party.

- Third time lucky -

It was the third time Ramaphosa has taken the oath.

The former trade unionist turned millionaire businessman first came to power in 2018, after his predecessor and rival Jacob Zuma was forced out before the end of his term under the cloud of corruption allegations.

Ramaphosa was then re-appointed for a full five-year term in 2019.

He promised a new dawn for South Africa, launched an anti-graft drive and started to reform a collapsing energy system.

But under his watch, the economy languished, blighted by power cuts, crime remained rife and unemployment increased to 32.9 percent.

In May, he led the ANC into yet another vote, but the historied party of the late Nelson Mandela came out bruised.

It won only 40 percent -- down from 57.5 percent five years earlier -- and lost its absolute majority in parliament, leaving it scrambling to find partners to remain in power.

The coalition deal allowed Ramaphosa to comfortably see off a last-minute challenge by firebrand leftist politician Julius Malema, with 283 lawmakers in the 400-seat National Assembly voting to put him back in office.

- 'No time to waste' -

But in a sign of the challenges ahead, the DA, which came second in the election with almost 22 percent, has already complained it was not consulted on the late inclusion of the PA.

Yet, having made a name for himself as a leading negotiator in the talks that brought an end to apartheid, Ramaphosa is well cut out for the job, according to some observers.

"Ramaphosa is somebody who always works in committee. He doesn't struggle to get a lot of people around," said analyst Sandile Swana.

Still, predicting how the cabinet is "going to look like" remains difficult, said author Leslie Dikeni.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said it was "very important" that they blended policies and that "we do have a coherent plan for government over the next five years and that we start... working on it".

"We've got no time to waste," he added.

The coalition has also faced a vociferous opposition from the left, with Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters and former president Zuma's uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) refusing to take part and denouncing the inclusion of the white-led, free-market DA.

The MK -- which came third in the election but has contested the results -- snubbed what it described as a "farcical" inauguration.

"We must reject every attempt to divide or distract us, to sow doubt or cynicism, or to turn us against one another," Ramaphosa said, in an apparent, veiled dig at his opponents.

"As leaders, as political parties, we are called upon to work in partnership towards a growing economy, better jobs, safer communities and a government that works for its people."

© Agence France-Presse

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