Cyril Ramaphosa re-elected South African president after ANC, DA reach deal

African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa secures second term with the help of lawmakers from opposition parties.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks after being re-elected as president of South Africa
Cyril Ramaphosa speaks after being re-elected as president of South Africa [Nic BothmaReuters]

Cyril Ramaphosa has been re-elected as South Africa’s president for a second term after his party struck a last-minute deal with political rivals.

Ramaphosa’s African National Congress, which came to power in 1994 after waging a decades-long battle against apartheid, lost its majority for the first time in an election last month and spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties.

As the newly elected parliament convened on Friday, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen said his white-led main opposition party formally signed a governing agreement with the ANC and part of it would make Ramaphosa president.

In a secret ballot hours later during a marathon parliamentary session, Ramaphosa secured his second term with the help of lawmakers from the DA and some smaller parties. The 71-year-old was re-elected by fellow MPs with 283 votes, seeing off a surprise challenge by Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose candidacy gained 44 votes.

Ramaphosa called the deal a “new birth, a new era for our country” and said it was time for parties “to overcome their differences and to work together”.

“This is what we shall do and this is what I am committed to achieve as the president,” added Ramaphosa.

The National Assembly had earlier elected a DA lawmaker as deputy speaker, after choosing an ANC politician as speaker – the first concrete instance of power sharing between the two parties.

‘New era’

The deal sent South Africa into uncharted waters. Politics in the country has been dominated by the ANC since it swept to power in the 1994 elections following the end of apartheid.

But late freedom fighter Nelson Mandela’s party, long seen as unbeatable in national elections, lost support in recent years as voters wearied of persistently high levels of poverty, inequality and crime, rolling power cuts and corruption in party ranks.

Ramaphosa will be sworn in next week in Pretoria and then unveil his new cabinet.

“It’s expected President Ramaphosa will make a number of concessions when appointing cabinet ministers, giving some of those posts to the political parties in the new partnership,” said Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Cape Town.

“That trade-off for the support of what was the ANC’s largest opponent, many hope, won’t come at a high cost.”

The DA has previously often opposed ANC policies related to economic, labour, healthcare and foreign policy decisions, including workers’ rights to South Africa’s stance on supporting Palestine.

“While it’s not really an issue of legally enforcing the agreement, the agreement is there as part of the process to build trust between what is now apparently going to be coalition parties,” constitutional expert Pierre de Vos told Al Jazeera.

“Whether it will work or not we really don’t know.”

The parliament session started at 10am in the unusual setting of a conference centre near Cape Town’s waterfront, after the city’s historic National Assembly building was gutted in a fire in 2022. The House first went through the hourslong swearing-in of hundreds of new lawmakers and electing a speaker and a deputy speaker.

The vote for president started late at night, with the results announced well after 10pm Ramaphosa finished his acceptance speech as the clock ticked past midnight and into Saturday.

Former President Jacob Zuma’s MK Party boycotted the session but that did not affect the voting as only a third of the house is needed for a quorum.

ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula said the party was open to talking with anyone else who wanted to join the unity government. There are 18 political parties represented in parliament and he said the multiparty agreement would “prioritise the country across the political and ideological divide.”

Some parties, including Malema’s EFF, refused to join.

The two other parties that joined the coalition deal were the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Patriotic Alliance, which has drawn attention partly because its leader, Gayton McKenzie, served a prison sentence for bank robbery.

McKenzie said he had been given a second chance in life and that South Africa also had one now, a chance to solve its deep socioeconomic problems.

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma greets supporters in the township of Soweto on May 18 [Jerome Delay/AP Photo]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies