Motlanthe praised for snap Cabinet pick

South Africa’s new President Kgalema Motlanthe won praise Friday for quickly forming a government after a week of political turbulence that resulted in the ouster of his predecessor.

Motlanthe unveiled his Cabinet shortly after his inauguration on Thursday, just days after the African National Congress (ANC) forced former president Thabo Mbeki to resign.

His first speech to Parliament emphasised the continuation of the ANC’s economic policies, which have led the country to sustained growth, while also vowing to tackle the twin problems of poverty and crime.

“Motlanthe firm on ANC growth, job policies,” read Business Day‘s headline, while the Star‘s front page declared “Motlanthe restores order.”

“Newly elected President Kgalema Motlanthe’s first task as head of state has been to send the right signal at home and abroad—by establishing stability and certainty in the government,” the Star said.

Motlanthe kept respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in his post, in a move that will reassure the business community after a week in which markets were badly spooked by the crisis within the ruling party.

The Chamber of Mines, representing one of South Africa’s most important industries, praised “the swift and decisive manner in which President Motlanthe and his fellow leaders in the ruling party brought calm to the markets after the uncertainty of the past week”.

He also won praise in the press and from activists for reassigning the controversial health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to the post of minister in the presidency, where she will coordinate communication with the ANC and Parliament.

Tshabalala-Msimang and Mbeki were derided for delaying programmes to treat the syndrome, which infects an estimated five million South Africans.

The Treatment Action Campaign, an HIV/Aids advocacy group, praised her successor Barbara Hogan as “hard-working, competent and principled”.

Business Day also praised Motlanthe for moving Manto to a post “where she can do no more harm to South Africans.”

But the Times, an often fierce critic of Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma, took an ironic twist on the closing line of Motlanthe’s speech: “So help me God.”

Motlanthe took power after Zuma’s allies in the ANC forced Mbeki to resign last weekend, but he is expected to have a brief administration as he leads South Africa to elections next year, when Zuma is tipped to take over.

Business Day said that Motlanthe “has about six months in the job. They won’t be comfortable.”

The ANC’s ouster of Mbeki heightened divisions within the party, but South Africa’s main labour group Cosatu said it believed Motlanthe could reunite the party.

“Cosatu is confident that [Motlanthe] will heal the divisions, which have plagued our movement in the recent past, and open a new chapter in which we build and strengthen unity within the ANC and its allies,” the group’s leader Sidumo Dlamini said.

Tabloid newspaper the Citizen also urged Motlanthe to move beyond the divisions that brought down Mbeki, saying South Africa still faced political challenges.

“At this time of uncertainty the president is called upon to rise above party political interests,” it said.

“We hope Motlanthe will leave behind the factional retribution of recent days and help unite the nation.”

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