I STAND before this House and the nation overwhelmed by the responsibility that is being thrust upon my shoulders.
I am truly humbled by the opportunity to serve as the fourth President of the democratic Republic of South Africa.
South Africa is a remarkable country with very special people. We normally get caught up in our day-to-day challenges and forget to appreciate this fact. We made history in the world in 1994 when together we discarded our tragic past, and opted for a future of harmony, peace and stability.
We elected our first President, our icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, whom we all love dearly. Madiba taught us the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation and humility.
He made us walk tall and feel proud to be South Africans. As President of the Republic, I will do my best to lead the country towards the realisation of Madiba’s vision of a truly non-sexist, non-racial South Africa, united in its diversity.
With the support of my organisation the ANC, as well as all South Africans, I hope to lead the country on a path of friendship, cooperation, harmony, unity and faster change.
We have just emerged from very vibrant elections. The Independent Electoral Commission, which can always be relied upon to deliver free and fair elections, rose to the occasion. The millions of South African voters made us their public representatives, the custodians of their hopes and dreams.
The next five years will depend on us as public representatives to serve them with dignity and respect and to maintain the decorum of Parliament, which is the face of our democracy. Our people have high expectations. As the executive, we will do our best to be more hands-on, more accessible and to deliver on our commitments.
We also intend to start a new chapter in relations between government and the opposition. We reiterate that it should be possible to work with opposition parties on issues that are in the national interest. While appreciating a robust opposition, we also trust that we will be able to move slightly away from the dogmatic approach, which turns every issue into a contentious one.
On the side of the executive, we will also need to try to avoid being over-defensive, and not view all criticism from the opposition in a negative light.
We can surely be able to build a working relationship that emphasises oversight, while also allowing cooperation where necessary.Â It is going to be a busy five years. We have deliberately given ourselves five priorities to focus on which will make us more effective in implementation.
As you are aware we will focus on education, health, land reform and rural development, the fight against crime as well as creating decent work. We are determined to leave an indelible mark in these five areas. Our most immediate priority is to respond decisively to the challenges posed by the global economic downturn.
We must move quickly to implement the framework agreed by government, business and labour to protect jobs and boost the economy. It is my fervent hope that our public servants heard our campaign message and understand that it shall not be business as usual. We expect hard work and utmost dedication.
Allow me to point out that it was quite a moving moment for me to be sworn in again as a Member of Parliament, even though my membership was just for a few hours.
I have a special relationship with parliament, especially this House. I have sat in various sections and now know every corner of the House. In 1994 I used to sit in the cross-benches as an NCOP KwaZulu-Natal representative, when I was still MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism.
In 1999 I moved to the front benches as Deputy President of the Republic. Members who were part of the last parliament will confirm that I was a very well behaved member. I attended sessions and presented myself timeously for the fortnightly deputy president’s question time.
I dutifully answered all questions, amid occasional heckling from the opposition benches. Honourable Members who would not let me rest and kept me very busy with questions included the Honourable Koos van der Merwe and Velaphi Ndlovu of the IFP, Pieter Mulder of FF Plus and the Honourable Cherilyne Dudley of the ACDP.
I was also a proud recipient of little notes from honourable members from various political parties, usually gossiping about each other, which I have kept very safely at home.
I left rather unceremoniously on June 14 2005, without an opportunity to say goodbye to all my friends. However, members will recall that I continued to visit, now sitting in the public gallery during the opening of parliament and other occasions.
However, despite all this dedication, I automatically lose my seat on being elected President! I am therefore considering running for honorary life membership! I am sure that even the DA would support such a motion!
Let me use this opportunity to congratulate our new presiding officers, and wish them well on their appointments.
We also recognise the contribution of all our former presiding officers. We must also acknowledge and thank the outgoing Cabinet for their good service. I will not dwell too much on the matter of Cabinet, Honourable Speaker. I understand the anxiety.
I intend to have my Cabinet assume office by May 11, so that we can get down to business. I have gained immensely from the wisdom of the top five ANC officials whom I have consulted on the matter.
I should be able to produce a team that will work very hard, and with the necessary speed. We mean business when we talk about faster change.
BY JACOB ZUMA, SA PRESIDENT