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Cyril Ramaphosa re-elected as South African president for second term after deal

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa after being re-elected for a second term (Jerome Delay/AP)
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa after being re-elected for a second term (Jerome Delay/AP)

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected for a second term on Friday after his African National Congress party struck a dramatic late coalition deal with the main opposition and other parties.

Mr Ramaphosa, 71, won convincingly in a vote against a surprise candidate who was also nominated in parliament – Julius Malema, the leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters.

Mr Ramaphosa got 283 votes to Mr Malema’s 44 in the 400-member house.

He secured his second term with the help of politicians from the second biggest Democratic Alliance (DA) party and others after the ANC lost its 30-year parliamentary majority in a landmark election two weeks ago.

The ANC signed an agreement with the DA — once its fiercest political foe — during the parliamentary session and just hours before the vote for president, ensuring Mr Ramaphosa returned as leader of Africa’s most industrialised economy.

The parties will now co-govern South Africa in its first national coalition where no party has a majority.

The deal, which parties referred to as a government of national unity, brings the ANC together in government with the DA, a white-led party that had for years been the main opposition and the main rival for the ANC. At least two other smaller parties are also part of the agreement that put South Africa into uncharted waters.

“The government of national unity is on track,” ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said. “For the interest of the country, we said let’s work together. We have no fear of that.”

African National Congress politicians and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa react after he is re-elected as leader of the country in Cape Town, South Africa
ANC politicians and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa react after he is re-elected as leader of the country in Cape Town, South Africa (Jerome Delay/AP)

The agreement was necessary after the ANC lost its 30-year majority in a humbling national election for it last month. The ANC is the party of Nelson Mandela and had governed with a comfortable majority ever since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994.

That three-decade dominance ended in the May 29 election, when the ANC’s share of the vote dropped to 40% amid discontent from South Africans over high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Analysts warn there might be complications ahead given the starkly different ideologies of the ANC, a former liberation movement, and the centrist, business-friendly DA — the two biggest parties and the key players. The DA won 21% of the vote in the national election, the second largest share.

For one, the DA disagreed with the ANC government’s move to accuse Israel of genocide in Gaza in a highly sensitive case at the United Nations’ top court.

Earlier, DA leader John Steenhuisen confirmed an agreement was signed. “From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said as he stepped away from the proceedings for a speech carried live on television. He called it an “historic step forward”.

The DA backed Mr Ramaphosa under the agreement and because the two parties have a clear joint majority of seats in Parliament, Mr Ramaphosa’s reelection was assured.

The Parliament session, which started at 10am, first went through the hours-long swearing-in of hundreds of new MPs and electing a speaker and a deputy speaker. The vote for president started late into the night and the results were announced after 10pm — more than 12 hours later.

Former President Jacob Zuma’s MK Party was boycotting the session, which did not affect the voting as only a third of the house is needed for a quorum.

Parliament convened in an unusual setting after a fire in 2022 gutted the National Assembly building in Cape Town and lawmakers came together at a conference centre near the city’s waterfront.

Two other smaller parties said they would be part of the coalition agreement and Mr Mbalula said the ANC was open to talking with anyone else who wanted to join the unity government.

There are 18 political parties represented in parliament and Mr Mbalula said the multi-party agreement would “prioritise the country across the political and ideological divide.” Some parties refused to join.

The other two parties to join were the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Patriotic Alliance, which has drawn attention because of its strong anti-immigration stance and because its leader, Gayton McKenzie, served a prison sentence for bank robbery.

“The deal is we are putting South Africa first,” Mr McKenzie said in an interview on state broadcaster SABC. “We are going to work together. We have decided we are not going to let South Africa die in our hands, on our watch.”

The ANC had faced a deadline to get a coalition agreement given parliament had to sit for the first time and vote for the president within 14 days of the election results being declared on June 2.

The ANC had been trying to strike a coalition agreement for two weeks and the final negotiations went through the night Thursday and into Friday, party officials said.

South Africa had not faced this level of political uncertainty since the ANC swept to power in the first all-race election in 1994 that ended nearly a half-century of racial segregation.

The party had held a clear majority in parliament since then, meaning parliamentary votes for the president were formalities. Every South African leader since was from the ANC, starting with Nelson Mandela. This unity government also harked back to the way Mr Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, invited political opponents to be part of a new unity government in 1994 in an act of reconciliation when the ANC had a majority.

This time, the ANC’s hand was forced.

“The ANC has been very magnanimous in that they have accepted defeat and have said, ‘let’s talk’,” PA leader Mr McKenzie said.