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South African lawmakers elect Cyril Ramaphosa as president

Mike Hutchings, AFP | Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at Parliament in Cape Town on February 15, 2018.

Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday was elected as South Africa's new president by ruling party legislators after the resignation of Jacob Zuma.

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"I will try very hard not to disappoint the people of South Africa," said Ramaphosa in a speech to parliament shortly after his appointment.

Calling for unity after turbulent years under Zuma, which saw corruption and unemployment levels rise, the 65-year-old veteran politician and businessman said the issue of corruption was on "our radar screen”.

MPs from the ruling ANC (African National Congress) broke into song and dance shortly after Ramaphosa was nominated, according to FRANCE 24’s Ayesha Ismail, reporting from Cape Town.

'We can finally make South Africa great again'

Ramaphosa was the only candidate nominated for election in the parliament after two opposition parties said they would not participate. The opposition parties instead unsuccessfully called for the dissolution of the National Assembly and early elections.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng presided over the parliamentary election and congratulated Ramaphosa, who had been Zuma's deputy and has called for a fight against corruption.

Taking action against ‘state capture’

Zuma resigned late Wednesday after years of scandals that damaged the stature of the ruling ANC party.

Corruption allegations against Zuma include a case relating to 783 payments he allegedly received linked to an arms deal before he came to power.

Other graft allegations have focused on the three Gupta brothers, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even hand-picking some of Zuma's ministerial appointments.

Police confirmed on Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for one Gupta brother, Ajay.

Analysis: Who are the Guptas at the heart of Zuma's downfall?

The political standoff in recent weeks plunged South Africa -- the continent's most developed economy -- into confusion over who was running the country, with last Thursday's annual State of the Nation address postponed at the last-minute.

Addressing the issue of “state capture” -- or the systematic ransacking of institutions to financially benefit individuals or groups – Ramaphosa promised to tackle corruption. "Tomorrow we will also have an opportunity to outline some of the steps we are going to be taking," he said.

‘We will hold you accountable’

Ramaphosa’s speech also focused on unity following a divisive period within the ANC.

Meanwhile opposition parties have accused the ruling party of protecting Zuma for years despite a series of corruption scandals.

Challenges lie ahead for S Africa's Ramaphosa

The opposition Democratic Alliance party will cooperate with Ramaphosa if he acts in the interests of the South African people, said party leader Mmusi Maimane.

"We will hold you accountable and I will see you in 2019 on the ballot box," Maimane said.

Members of a smaller opposition party walked out of parliament before the election, saying the ruling ANC party plan to choose a new president was "illegitimate."

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, said ANC lawmakers had failed to hold former Zuma to account for alleged corruption and had therefore violated the constitution.

State of the nation address on Friday

Ramaphosa is South Africa's fifth president since majority rule started after the end of apartheid in 1994. On Friday evening, he is expected to deliver the state of the nation address that had been postponed during the ruling party's days of closed-door negotiations to persuade Zuma to resign.

Zuma resigned in a nationally televised address late Wednesday after the ANC instructed him to step down or face a parliamentary motion of no confidence that he would almost certainly lose.

The South African currency, the rand, strengthened against the dollar in early trading Thursday after Zuma's resignation, which ended political turmoil that had stalled some government business.

On Thursday the foundation of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, welcomed Zuma's departure but said the state must act against "networks of criminality" that have hurt the country's democracy.

As the country marks the centenary of Mandela's 1918 birth, "there is a need to reckon with the failures of the democratic era," the foundation said. "We believe that we are at a critical moment in our history, one which offers us the unique opportunity to reflect, to rebuild, and to transform."

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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