Relief, joy in S.African parliament after ‘Zexit’
Chants of joy mingled with almost audible sighs of relief in South Africa's parliament on Thursday as the turbulent, scandal-stained era of President Jacob Zuma was consigned to history.
After Cyril Ramaphosa was selected unopposed by lawmakers to be the country’s next president, a large green banner bearing his face was unfurled in parliament’s public gallery.
MPs and members of the public burst spontaneously into songs and applause.
“I’m trying to adapt to an environment I’m not used to,” joked Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who had just proclaimed Ramaphosa’s appointment.
“In a court of law no singing is allowed,” he added, before congratulating the new president.
The months-long saga of “Zexit” — the departure of Zuma after nine years in power — had dug a deep rift in the ruling African National Congress and shaken confidence in the country’s political system.
“I’m a very relieved man,” admitted Jackson Mthembu, chief whip of the ANC, the celebrated anti-apartheid movement that traces its history back 106 years.
In his maiden pronouncements as the country’s fifth democratic head of state, Ramaphosa quickly sought to bury the often toxic legacy of his predecessor.
Zuma was accused by his critics of treating parliamentary government standards with suspicion bordering on contempt.
Ramaphosa notably took aim at the culture of graft reputedly fostered by his predecessor and reached out across party lines.
“One of the things I will be seeking to do is to have an opportunity… to work with all political parties,” he said.
Zuma resigned during a late-night TV address following weeks of pressure from his party and the threat of being unseated by a parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Other than the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who stormed out of proceedings after just 15 minutes or so, all parties proclaimed their recognition — even relief — at Ramaphosa’s new era.
Main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) lawmakers, who snapped photos of Ramaphosa on their phones as he arrived wearing a dark suit and red tie, heckled throughout — but in a genteel fashion.
– ‘That’s my president’ –
DA leader Mmusi Maimane warmly welcomed Ramaphosa and pledged cooperation — but vowed to continue to scrutinise the government.
“We don’t have a Jacob Zuma problem, we have an ANC problem,” Maimane said, urging Ramaphosa to call for early elections as a guarantee of democratic process.
Other party leaders gave cordial, often humorous statements, acknowledging Ramaphosa’s abrupt elevation.
“We’d like to remind you this is no carte blanche support,” said the chief whip of the Inkatha Freedom party, Narend Singh. “We will keep you on your toes.”
After concluding his speech to cheers from many lawmakers, Ramaphosa stopped with MPs to pose for selfies — with Maimane crossing the floor to embrace Ramaphosa.
Even die-hard Zuma allies were in a good mood after the dark and often divisive years of Zuma’s rule.
David Mahlobo, the controversial energy minister and former state security minister, was positively jocular.
“When it’s time to vote, I’m voting for the president of the ANC, that’s my president,” he said, beaming.
Asked whether he expected to be a minister under Ramaphosa, he told AFP: “Why is it an issue? If you are a member of the ANC, you serve at the behest of the organisation.”
But the chance for Ramaphosa to overhaul Zuma’s scandal-tainted cabinet was foremost in many lawmakers’ minds.
As Ramaphosa began to say that “one of the things I will be seeking to do is to have an opportunity…”, a DA MP quickly shouted “to reshuffle”, sparking raucous laughter from across the chamber.