Lets let bygones be bygones, Zuma appeals after ANC election win

Jacob Zuma Johannesburg - South Africa's ruling African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma on Saturday appealed to his opponents to let bygones be bygones after his party was handed a decisive mandate to govern for the next five years, but with a reduced majority. Zuma was speaking after the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria announced the ANC had won 65.9 per cent of Wednesday's vote to the National Assembly in Cape Town, which is expected to elect Zuma president within days.

"We have gone through a difficult period over a few years," Zuma, 67, said, referring to the protracted infighting in the ANC between factions loyal to Zuma and ousted ex-president Thabo Mbeki that led to a split in the party.

"It is now time to put it all behind us," Zuma appealed, calling for an end to "mistrust, uncertainty, pain and tension" and saying it was vital to restore South Africa's image as a place where country came before partisan interests.

Thanking the millions who voted ANC, Zuma said the ANC's "decisive" victory was an endorsement of the party's 15-year track record in government as well as "a victory for the country's constitution."

"We reiterate that the constitution is not under threat from the ANC. It has never been," he said in answer to fears in opposition quarters that the ANC, if it had obtained a two-thirds majority, might have used it to rein in dissent by changing the much-vaunted charter. Zuma has recently questioned the powers of the judiciary, saying judges who ruled against him in his defunct corruption case, were "not God."

In the end, the ANC fell short of the "overwhelming majority" Zuma had asked for, dropping around 4 percentage points on its 2004 score of 69.7 per cent.

Unemployment of around 40 per cent, and the slow pace of service delivery in poor communities, were listed by voters, including ANC voters, as the most critical election issue.

While the ANC has built around 3 million free or low-cost houses since 1994, close to 1 million people out of a total 48 million still live in tin shacks.

Zuma acknowledged that improving service delivery was critical, while voicing concern about the potential impact on the economy of the global economic crisis.

After averaging 5 per cent between 2003 and 2007, GDP growth in South Africa is forecast to dip under 1 per cent this year, constraining Zuma's ability to deliver on his election promises of more jobs.

Preparations for the football World Cup being held in South Africa next year has helped buffer the country from the worst of the global economic fallout.

Zuma said he had spoken to Joseph Blatter, head of the World Cup organizing body FIFA, earlier Saturday and assured him of his "unwavering commitment" to the tournament. (dpa)

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