Parliament — The new National Assembly on Wednesday elected President Jacob Zuma unopposed for a second term as head of state after a failed bid by the Democratic Alliance to argue that he was not fit for the post.
After the ANC nominated Zuma, the DA’s James Selfe rose to ask that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng rule that he was not a “fit and proper person”, notably because of his inadequate response to reports from the Public Protector.
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor countered that it was a “frivolous motion” because, constitutionally, any member of the Assembly could be elected president.
The chief justice concurred that under section 86 of the Constitution this was the case, and reminded members that earlier in the day Zuma was indeed sworn in as one of the 400 members of the chamber.
“My ruling is therefore to dismiss the point raised without costs,” Mogoeng quipped, before confirming Zuma’s election as president.
The Assembly earlier elected ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete Speaker after new MPs took their seats — ranging from the red-clad initiates of the EFF to veterans of the post-apartheid Parliament.
Mbete easily defeated the Democratic Alliance’s nominee for the post, former African National Congress Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela, who first defected to the Congress of the People and then to the official opposition in 2012.
Mbete won 260 votes compared to Balindlela’s 88. There were 366 ballots cast of which 18 were invalid.
Mbete previously held the post from 2004 to 2008 and replaced the widely respected Max Sisulu, who was sworn in as an ordinary ANC MP on Wednesday.
Political analyst Steven Friedman commented that Sisulu had a reputation for listening to all political parties and Mbete’s election was a clear sign the ruling party wanted the Speaker to do “what the ANC wants”.
Outgoing co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Lechesa Tsenoli was elected deputy speaker unopposed.
Earlier Mogoeng called MPs to take the oath or solemn affirmation in groups of 10, with the first including Zuma, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, and Pandor.
The next group included Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, widely expected to return to his portfolio when Zuma announces his Cabinet on Sunday, after former SA Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni withdrew from the ruling party’s list of MPs.
Zuma remained an MP for only a few hours before being formally elected president for a second term.
His former political protégé turned foe Julius Malema was sworn in along with nine other members of his Economic Freedom Fighters, who hold 25 seats in the chamber after winning six percent of the vote in the May 7 elections.
In a theatrical touch, Malema and his colleagues wore red boiler suits or dressed like domestic workers to symbolise their stated aim of representing the poor. But most MPs chose formal attire such as suits for the ceremony.
The DA’s Mmusi Maimane was sworn in amid speculation that though he had no experience in the legislature, he would replace Lindiwe Mazibuko as the party’s parliamentary leader.
Another new DA MP was former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who joined the official opposition after a labour dispute with the National Prosecuting Authority.
Before the sitting began, hugs, kisses, and handshakes were exchanged in the Assembly as MPs took their seats.
Animated conversations took place between ANC MPs — more than 60 percent of whom are returning to the fifth Parliament after the elections. Some of the ruling party’s MPs walked over to the EFF’s MPs to welcome them to the House for the first time.
Former Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale greeted Malema warmly with a handshake and a pat on the back.
In contrast to the EFF newcomers, many MPs were taking the oath or solemn affirmation for the fifth time, having served in every post-apartheid Parliament.
Among them was the ANC’s Luwellyn Landers and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Gravely ill IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini returned to the legislature in a wheelchair.
A frail-looking Oriani-Ambrosini lifted himself out of his wheelchair with the help of an ornate walking stick, and stood hunched over while reading the oath.