Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma walked out to the National Assembly chamber to uZuma lo, My President, the song which erupted from the ANC benches after his uncontested, but not uncontroversial, election as head of state for a second term.
Surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards and accompanied by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, it was a walk along the red carpet, up the stairs and outside to the white chairs assembled for a group photograph of the fifth Parliament, metres from Madiba’s bronze bust.
The remaining 399 MPs filed out to the National Assembly stairs to take their positions for the official photo.
As several of the red-clad Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs took seats in the front-row chairs, they were heckled from behind: “Hey, 6 percent (a reference to their May 7 election support).”
Zuma’s election was uncontested, but not without drama when the DA brought an objection to disqualify Zuma from being nominated. DA MP James Selfe said the nomination was “irrational” and that Zuma was “not a fit and proper person” because of his previous conduct in office, including his failure to act on two public protector reports and for having unconstitutionally and invalidly appointed a previous prosecutions boss.
These were references to the public protector reports on the R215 million taxpayer-funded security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla rural estate, a finding of mismanagement of an R800m sea fisheries patrol tender as well as the declaration by the Constitutional Court in late 2012 that the appointment of advocate Menzi Simelane as national director of prosecutions was invalid.
But Justice Mogoeng made short shrift of the objection – the time for objections had been between Friday, when the lists of designated MPs were handed to him, up to just before Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Despite much earlier speculation in parliamentary corridors, there were no further nominations – EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema only played at getting up from his seat – and the chief justice declared the presidential election over.
“I accordingly declare the Honourable Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma duly elected the president of the Republic of South Africa.”
But the political battle lines were clearly drawn. While the 249 ANC MPs rose for a standing ovation and song, those on the opposition benches – the EFF, the IFP, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and the DA – remained seated and stone-faced.
The day’s only contest happened earlier on Wednesday when the DA, ultimately unsuccessfully, fielded its newly sworn in MP Nosimo Balindlela as Speaker against ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete.
It was a symbolic move as the ANC, regardless of its reduced majority, still holds 249 of the 400 National Assembly seats. But the voting process took up several hours, and, at one stage, Justice Mogoeng cautioned MPs they would, if necessary, sit until after midnight to conclude the business.
The vote on the Speaker’s post could have been concluded a little earlier had Parliament’s lifts not played up again and prevented several MPs from making it back to the National Assembly after the bells were rung.
Mbete returned to the Speaker’s chair by a vote of 260 against 88 for Balindlela, the former ANC Eastern Cape premier who resigned to join Cope, and last year the DA. There were also 18 invalid votes among the 366 cast. One MP from the ANC benches was allowed to vote again after alerting the chief justice he had made a mistake.
Among the 400 who did not vote in the Speaker’s contest was Malema. He declined, after his name was called.
The election of Lechesa Tsenoli as Mbete’s deputy was unopposed, and the former co-operative governance minister, in his vote of thanks, also reminded MPs of the need to overcome inequality, before the focus fell on the presidential election
About six hours earlier, Zuma was in the first group of 10 sworn in – alongside ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Jeff Radebe, the only minister to have served in the cabinet since 1994, and fellow returnees Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula, Blade Nzimande, Lindiwe Sisulu and Naledi Pandor.
Mbete, the incoming Speaker, stood next to Max Sisulu, the Speaker of the previous Parliament, in the second group to take the oath of office.
Lining up in front of the chief justice, holding the certificate of their oath of office, they pledged the oath, or solemn affirmation, and were applauded before they returned to their seats.
As Malema lined up to be sworn in alongside several of his MPs, there was a brief moment of laughter.
“For a minute I thought you were going back to get your hat. I was going to say, ‘Please, not that one,’” said Justice Mogoeng.