26 Apr 2009

South Africa's Zuma pledges to unite country

7:24 am on 26 April 2009

Jacob Zuma, who will become South Africa's president, claimed a "resounding" victory for the ruling ANC in South Africa's general polls and vowed to work to unite the nation.

Official results of Wednesday's election gave the African National Congress 65.9% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution at will.

Speaking on national television shortly after the results were announced, Zuma claimed 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.

In his speech, he addressed both business interests and the leftist allies who helped his rise to power during eight years of struggling against corruption charges, which were dismissed early this month on a technicality.

"We are concerned about the potential impact of the global economic crisis. 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.

In the last poll the ANC had easily won a two-thirds majority, but this time 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 won 67 seats, while the Congress of the People, 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 Cape Town, where the Democratic Alliance (DA) won a majority for the first time.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Mr Zuma on Friday to congratulate him on his party's success, a spokesman in London said, and 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.

Three weeks ago Mr Zuma succeeded in getting a court to drop graft charges his supporters say were politically motivated.