President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday acknowledged the country’s vast problems, including poverty, corruption and unemployment and called on citizens to unite behind efforts to build on the gains achieved in the country’s 25 years of democracy.
Ramaphosa was addressing around 30,000 people who filled Tshwane’s Loftus Stadium to see him take the oath of office during the presidential inauguration, filled with displays from the South African National Defence Force.
“South Africans want action and not just words and promises. And there will be action,” Ramaphosa committed.
“The challenges that we face are real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And we are going to solve them.”
Ramaphosa’s commitment comes as the ANC has often been criticised for failing to implement its own policies and while economic growth remains stagnant, unemployment high, and poverty rife, with little improvement during the president’s 15 months in office.
“This is a defining moment for our young nation. Today is the choice of history. It is a time for us to make the future we yearn for,” said Ramaphosa.
He spoke of the gains the country has seen since 1994 and painted a vision of returning to the hope inspired during the country’s transition to democracy, at times echoing the spirit of former president Nelson Mandela.
“Our people have felt the warm embrace of liberty. They have rejoiced at the affirmation of their essential and equal humanity,” he said, before acknowledging a key challenge – corruption.
“But they have also known moments of doubt. They have felt the cold shadow of a past so cruel and iniquitous that it has at times threatened to eclipse the very achievement of their hard-won freedom,” he continued.
“In recent times, our people have watched as some of those in whom they had invested their trust have surrendered to the temptation of power and riches,” he said.
“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free from corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development, for elected officials and public servants who faithfully serve no other cause than that of the public.”
A number of leaders in the ANC have been accused of corruption and a battle continues within the party as they seek to hold onto their positions and avoid prosecution.
The president emphasised the need to build a society based on equality for all regardless of race, gender or sexuality and said inequality can no longer be tolerated. He committed to ending poverty within a generation.
It was the second time Ramaphosa took the oath of office after he was elected president in February 2018 after former president Jacob Zuma was forced by the ANC to resign. This time it was on his own terms after the ANC won the recent national elections with 57.5% of the vote on the back of Ramaphosa’s popularity.
The inauguration was attended by former presidents FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe. Zuma, who was in court this week fighting to have corruption charges against him dropped, was on the programme but did not appear.
The event was held on Africa Day and attended by leaders from the continent such as Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, the DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi, Ethiopia’s Sahle Work-Zewde, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Tanzania’s John Magufuli.
Ramaphosa spent a considerable part of his speech calling for African countries to unite to achieve development on the continent. “Africa is poised once again to rise, to assume its place among the free and equal nations of the world,” he said.
The inauguration was the first to be open to the public with the presidency deciding to hold the event at Loftus, breaking with the tradition of hosting it at the Union Buildings. People came on buses from across the country to fill the stadium. Many in attendance wore ANC regalia.
Former speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete was the event’s MC and requested the audience to turn off their phones and not to move through the aisles during the proceedings. “There must be no moving around. I see people moving around even during the prayer,” she said at what at times felt more like a rally than an inauguration.
“This is the president that we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said 48-year-old Victoria Maloka who had come from Pankop in Mpumalanga to attend.
Calling for Ramaphosa to strengthen democratic institutions and curtail corruption, Maloka said she had faith he could deliver on his promises.
“He has prepared. He didn’t prepare yesterday. He prepared when he negotiated the Constitution over 20 years ago,” she said.
“It is important because he’s our president and he’s Venda-speaking. We want to support Rampahosa,” said Zwiita Azwidohwi, 48, from Mphaila in Limpopo, hoping he will deliver on jobs and improve basic service delivery. DM