Jacob Zuma Saturday claimed a “resounding” victory for his ruling ANC party in South Africa\’s general election, vowing to steer a steady course in government while working to unite the nation.
Zuma, 67, is now certain to become president when the new parliament convenes early next month to elect the head of state, after the African National Congress scored a 66 percent victory in Wednesday\’s polls. Speaking on national television shortly after the final results were announced, Zuma hailed the victory but also sought to reassure his critics. “Working together we will make it a government for all South Africans,” he said. “The new president of the republic will be a president for all, and he will work to unite the country. “We do not take the mandate lightly, we know the responsibility that comes with it,” the ANC leader said. “Our resounding victory is a celebration for people from all walks of life,” he said. “We are very grateful and humbled by the decisive mandate we have received from millions of South Africans.” Two seats shy of super-majority The ANC scooped 264 seats in the 400-member parliament, just two seats shy of the two-thirds super-majority needed to amend the constitution at will. The former liberation movement had easily won the super-majority in 2004 polls, but this year two smaller parties emerged as the voice of the opposition, taking some votes away from the ANC as well as from a slate of minor parties. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) won 67 seats, while the upstart Congress of the People or COPE, which broke away from the ANC late last year, landed third with 30 seats. The ANC also swept provincial elections, except for the Western Cape which is home to the city of Cape Town, where the DA won a majority for the first time. But the ANC edged out the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party in its stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal province, winning a majority for the first time in the region that was the scene of deadly inter-party clashes ahead of the first democratic elections after the end of apartheid in 1994. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Zuma on Friday to congratulate him on his party\’s success, a spokesman in London said, to show “our desire to work closely with the new South African government.” The African Union declared the election free and fair in a preliminary report commending the smooth conduct of the elections. Working-class devotees Zuma has experienced massive support from his mainly working-class devotees who hope the populist leader is their ticket to improved public services and more jobs. But he will take power as the economy is sliding into a recession, with thousands of workers in the crucial mining industry laid off earlier this year. He vowed to try to protect South African jobs from the fallout of the global financial crisis, but also indicated that he would steer a steady course for the next government. “We will work with all stakeholders, especially business and labour, to find ways to prevent and cushion our people against job losses and other difficulties that may arise,” he said. “There will be no surprises in the next administration\’s programme of action,” he added. Antithesis of former president The son of a housekeeper, Zuma is seen as the antithesis of the aloof former president Thabo Mbeki who managed impressive economic growth, but failed to tackle the world\’s largest HIV rates and the nation\’s staggering crime problem. Zuma was a stalwart of the struggle against white minority rule, and spent a decade jailed alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. He became deputy to Mbeki, but the two developed a fierce rivalry, and Mbeki sacked him in 2005. Zuma seized the leadership of the ANC away from Mbeki in December 2007, and nine months later the party dismissed Mbeki as president.