Zuma reaches out

2009-05-06 00:00

PRESIDENT-ELECT Jacob Zuma said he will do his best to realise the vision of former president Nelson Mandela for a “truly non-racist, non-sexist South Africa, which is united in its diversity”.

In a conciliatory, down-to-business address, Zuma said: “With the support of my organisation and all South Africans, I hope to lead the country on a path of friendship, co-operation, harmony, unity and faster change,” he said, after being elected president at the first session of the new Parliament in Cape Town yesterday.

“We plan to be more accessible, and to deliver on our commitments.”

Zuma said his government intends to start a new chapter in relations between the government and the opposition.

“We reiterate that it should be possible to work with opposition parties on issues that are in the national interest,” he said.

“While appreciating a robust opposition, we also trust that we will be able to move slightly away from the dogmatic approach which turns every issue into a contestation among parties.

“It’s going to be a busy five years,” he said.

A clearly emotional Zuma told the National Assembly he is overwhelmed at the responsibility he now faces — and “truly humbled” by the opportunity to serve as the fourth president in South Africa’s democratic era.

He said he intends to have his new cabinet in office by Monday, saying he has consulted thoroughly with the top five officials of the ANC. “I should be able to produce a team that will work very hard and with the necessary speed. We mean business when we talk about faster change,” he said.

African National Congress members leapt to their feet and burst into song as Chief Justice Pius Langa formally declared Zuma the president-elect of South Africa just after 4 pm yesterday.

Langa made the announcement in the National Assembly after Cope delayed proceedings by nominating Cope leader Mvume Dandala as an opponent for the presidency, forcing a vote by secret ballot.

Zuma was nominated by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, while senior Cope member Mbhazima Shilowa nominated Dandala. Of a total of 327 votes cast, 277 were for Zuma, 47 for Dandala and three were spoilt.

The DA abstained from voting for Zuma, saying the party could not support him because he is the subject of a review application brought by the DA in respect of the NPA’s decision to discontinue criminal prosecution against him. “We therefore had to abstain from the vote,” DA chief whip Ian Davidson said.

ANC members chanted “Zuma, Zuma” after Langa made the announcement, and a beaming Zuma put his hand on his heart and moved to shake hands with fellow ANC members in the nearby benches.

Opposition parties congratulated Zuma on his election, with most leaders saying they will support him in a challenging task, but will remain vigilant over his presidency.

Turning to the five years ahead, Zuma cited five priorities to make the government more effective: education, health, land reform and rural development, the fight against crime and creating decent work.

“We are determined to leave an indelible mark in these areas. Our most challenging task is to deal with the challenges posed by the global economic crisis.

“Public servants must know that it is not business as usual. We expect hard work and dedication,” he said.

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