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South Africa's Ramaphosa vows to fight inequality as power-sharing begins

Published 06/19/2024, 11:23 AM
Updated 06/19/2024, 06:56 PM
© Reuters. Cyril Ramaphosa gestures after taking the oath of office for his second term as South African President at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, 19 June 2024.  KIM LUDBROOK/Pool via REUTERS

By Siyabonga Sishi and Thando Hlophe

PRETORIA (Reuters) -A weakened South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged on Wednesday that his new multi-party government would work to improve basic living conditions for all citizens as he was sworn in for a second term in office.

Ramaphosa's African National Congress will be sharing power with five other parties after it was humbled in a May 29 election, losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years of democracy.

The voters "have been unequivocal in expressing their disappointment and disapproval of our performance in some of the areas in which we have failed them," Ramaphosa said at his inauguration ceremony in the capital Pretoria.

He said the voters wanted everyone to have enough food, decent homes, clean water, affordable and uninterrupted electricity supply, well-maintained roads, good care for the sick and elderly, quality schools and other basic services.

"Today, I stand before you as your humble servant to say we have heard you," he said. "In this moment we must choose to move forward, to close the distances between South Africans and to build a more equal society."

The ANC remains the largest party after the election, followed by the pro-business Democratic Alliance, a critic of the ANC's record in office which has agreed to join the new government.

IDEOLOGICAL DIVISIONS

While investors have welcomed the inclusion of the DA, which wants to boost growth through structural reforms and prudent fiscal policies, analysts say sharp ideological divisions between the parties could make the government unstable.

Just before the election, Ramaphosa signed into law a National Health Insurance bill that the DA says could collapse a creaking health system. It was unclear what would happen to that law under the new government.

The DA advocates scrapping the ANC's flagship Black economic empowerment programme, saying it hasn't worked -- a highly contentious topic in a nation grappling with huge inequalities, some inherited from apartheid.

Ramaphosa has yet to announce the make-up of his new government, to be negotiated with members of the new alliance.

A former liberation movement, the ANC came to power under Nelson Mandela's leadership in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid and had long been unbeatable, but it lost its shine after presiding over years of decline.

POVERTY AND CRIME

Weary of high levels of poverty and unemployment, rampant crime, rolling power cuts and corruption in party ranks, voters punished the ANC, which lost millions of votes on May 29 compared with the previous election in 2019.

"Our society remains deeply unequal and highly polarised," Ramaphosa said.

"We are divided between those who have jobs and those who do not work, between those who have the means to build and enjoy a comfortable life and those who do not."

African heads of state and dignitaries from as far afield as Cuba, a historical friend of the ANC, gathered outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, seat of the South African government, to bear witness to Ramaphosa's inauguration.

© Reuters. Cyril Ramaphosa gestures after taking the oath of office for his second term as South African President at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, 19 June 2024.  KIM LUDBROOK/Pool via REUTERS

A ceremony full of military pomp and pageantry began with inter-faith prayers by Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and traditional African religious leaders, reflecting the country's diversity.

Military helicopters flew past in blazing sunshine, trailing South African flags, to cheers from the audience.

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