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South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa re-elected as president after dramatic late coalition deal

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

African National Congress lawmakers and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa react after his re-election as leader of the country in Cape Town on Friday. Photo: AP

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.”

The agreement was necessary after the ANC lost its 30-year majority in a humbling national election for it last month. It was a turning point for Africa’s most industrialised economy. 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 per cent 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 per cent 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.

South Africa’s leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party John Steenhuisen signed a coalition agreement with Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC party. Photo: Reuters

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 the 71-year-old Ramaphosa under the agreement and because the two parties have a clear joint majority of seats in parliament, Ramaphosa’s re-election was assured.

The parliament session, which started at 10am, first went through the hours-long swearing-in of hundreds of new lawmakers 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 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 Mbalula said the multiparty agreement would “prioritise the country across the political and ideological divide”. Some parties refused to join.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) and Pemmy Majodina of the African National Congress (ANC) attend a swearing-in ceremony into the National Assembly on Friday. Photo: Reuters

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,” 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 Mandela.

This unity government also harked back to the way 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 McKenzie said.

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