POLITICS
15/02/2018 16:21 SAST | Updated 15/02/2018 16:22 SAST

FIRST TAKE: Ramaphosa Turns On The Charm

Newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa made his first remarks as head of state on Thursday afternoon. This is how it went.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses MPs after being elected president of the Republic of South Africa in Parliament in Cape Town, February 15, 2018.
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses MPs after being elected president of the Republic of South Africa in Parliament in Cape Town, February 15, 2018.

ANALYSIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said all the right things, made all the right moves and winked at the right people during his remarks after being elected South Africa's fifth democratic head of state.

Standing at the podium in the National Assembly, in a charcoal suit and a red tie (much like the outfit Jacob Zuma wore when resigning on Wednesday night), Ramaphosa was measured and calm when addressing the assembled MPs. Except of course Julius Malema's EFF, which stormed out of the house for what seemed like the millionth time.

Ramaphosa will make his first major statement on Friday night, when he delivers the state of the nation address (Sona). It will be an opportunity for him to set out his agenda and attempt to break with his predecessor's era.

Five take-aways from Ramaphosa's short appearance on the podium

1. THE RULE OF LAW

MIKE HUTCHINGS via Getty Images
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the speaker's chair during the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

He made a big show of acknowledging Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and thanking him for changing his programme to officiate at proceedings. He shared an anecdote of his interaction with Mogoeng before they entered the chamber and visibly illustrated his reverence for the chief justice - and by extension, the judiciary's role.

2. ACCOUNTABILITY

He referred to his commitment to accountability on three occasions in his 15 minutes at the podium. He told MPs he intends to honour his commitments to the legislature, to be accountable and to answer questions. He also told Mmusi Maimane, the DA leader who said he would see Ramaphosa "in 2019 at the elections", that he'd see him before then, because he intends to be in Parliament to answer questions.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
The National Assembly on Wednesday, 15 February 2018.

3. CHECKS AND BALANCES

Ramaphosa's predecessor, former president Jacob Zuma (quite something to write and read!), did not take kindly to democratic checks and balances, preferring to see conspiracies in everything and everyone that didn't agree with him. Sure, Ramaphosa had to do it, but he did welcome and acknowledge the role of the media and the opposition. It's a start.

4. HUMILITY

Zuma enjoyed the perks of office, as all politicians (including Ramaphosa) do. But he said that he intends being a president that serves with "humility, faithfulness and dignity". By using those words, Ramaphosa gives the electorate a yardstick by which to measure him by. It remains rhetoric, but rhetoric is important.

5. STYLE

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa holds his speech notes as he addresses MPs after being elected president in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Ramaphosa is the consummate charmer. He smiles heartily and easily, he is unafraid of physical contact and makes eye contact. He spoke with the aid of speaking notes in his hand, but wasn't fixated on them. His gaze swept across the chamber and he engaged with opposition leaders, recalling old friendships and previous encounters. He was easy, relaxed and certainly comfortable in his new role.

Ramaphosa will deliver the Sona on Friday night. That's when the real work starts. He inherits a government in drift and a country demanding accountability. Thursday's performance was light and fun. Friday's will have to be the real deal.