South Africa's parliament has elected African National Congress deputy
president Kgalema Motlanthe as the third post-apartheid president of
the country. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our Johannesburg
bureau, the new president made it clear he did not intend to deviate
from the former president's policies.
Despite the ANC ousting former President Thabo Mbeki because, in the words of a senior party official, "We have lost confidence in him", Mr. Motlanthe served notice on the country he intended to continue in the footsteps of his predecessor.
"The policies of this government are clear," he said. "Mine is not the desire to deviate from what is working. It is not for me to reinvent policy. Nor do I intend to reshape either Cabinet or the public service. We will not allow that the work of government be interrupted."
Earlier in the day Chief Justice Pius Langa presided over the election of the new president, who got 269 votes, 28 less than the number of ANC members of parliament. Justice Langa's announcement of the winner was brief.
"I accordingly declare the honorable Kgalema Petros Motlanthe duly elected president of the Republic of South Africa," he said.
Later Mr. Motlanthe took the oath of office at his official residence, Tuynhuis.
"I, Kgalema Petros Motlanthe, swear that I will be faithful
to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold and
maintain the constitution, and all other law[s] of the Republic, and I
solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always promote all that will
advance the Republic, and oppose all that may harm it," he said.
President Motlanthe is a somewhat opaque figure to South Africans. A poll was published early in the day in which respondents were asked to indicate if they supported his pending election as president, and what they knew about him. Overall he received a score of just more than four out of 10. Ironically even ANC supporters scored him less than five with most saying they did not know enough to have an opinion.
It was just Thursday that South Africans learned for the first time that Mr. Motlanthe was born on July 19, 1949 in Alexandra township, now a suburb of Johannesburg. It is believed that he is married with three children. A resume released by the ANC did not mention his educational qualifications.
In 1976 he was detained without trial for 10 months and the following year sentenced to 10 years in jail for offenses against the apartheid state.
On his release in 1987, Mr. Motlanthe joined the labor movement and in 1997 was elected secretary general of the ANC, a post he held until he was elected deputy president of the party in December last year.
Before he addressed the house, President Motlanthe had to listen to a string of opposition party members who, while welcoming his appointment, warned him it is now time to put the country ahead of his divided party. The feisty Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille told Mr. Motlanthe his duty is clear.
"During times like these when there is political and economic upheaval, we urgently need leadership that will give all South Africans hope that the enormous challenges we face like corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment and HIV/AIDS will be addressed," said de Lille.
The new president wasted no time in appointing a new cabinet. He replaced ministers who resigned but made only minor changes in the remaining departments.
The speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, will be the new deputy president. Motlanthe has moved the controversial and unpopular Manto Tshabalala-Msimang from health and appointed her minister in the presidency. The new health minister is the widely respected Barbara Hogan.