Jacob Zuma brushed off a graft scandal to win a second term as South African president, just as he did when he first took office five years ago.
Zuma, 72, was elected at the National Assembly’s first sitting after May 7 elections, a formality after his African National Congress secured 62 percent of the vote and 249 of the legislature’s 400 seats. The opposition Democratic Alliance objected to Zuma’s nomination, saying he isn’t fit for the post, though didn’t field an alternative candidate.
In March, South Africa’s graft ombudsman alleged that Zuma unduly benefited from a state-funded 215-million-rand ($21-million) home upgrade and failed to ensure proper control over public money. He first took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him for taking bribes from arms dealers. The ANC defended Zuma, who denied wrongdoing in both instances.
“The reason Zuma remains president has everything to do with politics inside the ANC,” Zwelethu Jolobe, a political analyst at the University of Cape Town, said by phone today. “The party needs somebody to hold it together and he’s the one person who can do that for now. Concerns about impropriety are being overridden by the need to maintain unity.”
Zuma will be inaugurated on May 24 and announce his new cabinet the next day.
The ANC has ruled Africa’s second-largest economy since taking power in the nation’s first all-race elections in 1994 with the backing of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest labor federation, and the South African Communist Party.
Zuma, a former intelligence operative, won the presidency of the party from Thabo Mbeki in 2007 and retained control in 2012 after defeating then-deputy Kgalema Motlanthe.
The challenges confronting Zuma in his second term mirror those he faced in his first: addressing a 25 percent jobless rate; mounting discontent among poor communities over a lack of housing and government services; and stimulating an economy that’s growing at half the state’s 5.4 percent target rate.
Zuma’s re-appointment was preceded by the swearing in of 400 members of the National Assembly and the election of ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete as speaker. Thirteen parties won seats in the legislature. The ANC’s main challengers are Helen Zille’s DA, which won 89 seats and the Economic Freedom Fighters, which won 25 in its inaugural election.
Members of the EFF, which is led by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, arrived at Parliament wearing the party’s trademark red berets and coveralls. Formed just seven months ago, the EFF attracted support from young, unemployed voters with a pledge to nationalize mines, banks and land.
EFF members sang and danced today outside the entrance of the legislature, next to a statue of Nelson Mandela, the nation’s first black president who died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.