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Relief, joy in S.African parliament after ‘Zexit’

POOL / AFP / Rodger BOSCH
Vow: Cyril Ramaphosa brings the curtain down to the oath of office
Chants of joy with 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 broad green banner bearing his face in the 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 a deep rift in the ruling African National Congress and shaken confidence in the country’s political system. “I’m a very relieved man,” said Jackson Mthembu, chief whip of the ANC, the 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.

POOL / AFP / Rodger BOSCH
Hug: Ramaphosa celebrates with Baleka Mbete National Assembly Speaker
Zuma was accused by his criticism of the treatment of the government with suspicion bordering on contempt. Ramaphosa is one of the oldest and most successful societies in the world.
“One of the things I will be looking for to have an opportunity … to work with all political parties,” he said. Zuma resigned during a late-night TV address following the weeks of his party and the threat of being unseated by a vote of no confidence. Other than the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who stormed out 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, heckled throughout – but in a fashion genteel. – ‘That’s my president’ – DA leader Mmusi Maimane warmly welcomed Ramaphose and pledged cooperation – goal vowed to continue to vote the government. “We do not 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 white card 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 state security minister, was positively jocular. “When it’s time to vote, I’m voting for the president of the ANC, that’s my chair,” he said, beaming. Asked whether he is expected to be minister under Ramaphosa, he told AFP: “Why is it an issue? If you are a member of the ANC, you are at the behest of the organization.”

AFP / CHARL DEVENISH
Protest: Members of the Democratic Alliance Opposition and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) asked for a crackdown on graft suspects
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 am looking for is to have an opportunity …”, DA has quickly shouted “to reshuffle”, sparking raucous laughter from across the chamber.

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