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Page last updated at 19:05 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:05 UK

Zuma vows to unite South Africa

Jacob Zuma: 'We must... begin a new chapter of harmony and collaboration'

Jacob Zuma, the man expected to become South Africa's president after his ANC party's convincing electoral win, has said he will work to unite the country.

"We have gone through a difficult period... it is now time to put it all behind us," he said after the ANC's fourth term in office was confirmed.

The ANC won 65.9% but fell just short of its previous two-thirds majority.

Mr Zuma was dogged by corruption and sex scandals and the party split last year when he stood for leader.

A two-thirds majority in parliament is needed to change the constitution.

They [some journalists] now find the two-thirds [majority] is an issue instead of congratulating the ANC for winning decisively
Jacob Zuma
ANC leader

Rejecting opposition allegations, Mr Zuma added that the ANC (African National Congress) posed no threat to the constitution.

The ANC will have 264 seats in parliament - just short of a two-thirds majority.

The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), will have 67 seats while in third place with 30 seats is the Congress of the People (Cope) - the party formed by Mosiuoa Lekota as a result of the ANC split.

South Africa is priding itself tonight on a well-run and highly successful election, BBC South Africa correspondent Peter Biles reports from Pretoria.

The excitement and enthusiasm of voters had reminded everyone of the country's first democratic elections in 1994, he adds.

Mr Zuma will be sworn in as president in two weeks' time after his election by the new parliament.

Enigmatic leader

The ANC won 69.69% of the vote in the last election in 2004, when it was led by Thabo Mbeki, and 66.35% in 1999.

Mr Zuma told reporters he was happy with the ANC's share of the vote, which dropped by nearly 4%.

"It's not a disappointment," he said.

"I know that some of your colleagues were trying to shift the goalposts when we have won with a decisive majority. They now find the two-thirds is an issue instead of congratulating the ANC for winning decisively."

During the election campaign, DA leader Helen Zille had urged South Africans to deny the ANC a two-thirds majority, arguing that the party would use it to protect Mr Zuma from new corruption charges.

Previous charges of corruption against Mr Zuma were dropped just two weeks before the poll after state prosecutors said there had been political interference in the case.

ANC leader Jacob Zuma (left) is congratulated by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe in Pretoria, 25 April
Jacob Zuma (left) was congratulated by SA President Kgalema Motlanth

In February 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape in a separate case, though he was widely criticised for his comments about sex and HIV/Aids.

The challenges which confront Mr Zuma as president include a struggling economy and soaring violent crime.

"We are concerned about the potential impact of the global economic crisis," he said in his speech on Saturday.

"We will work with all stakeholders, especially business and labour, to find ways to prevent and cushion our people against job losses and other difficulties that may arise."

The BBC's Africa analyst, Martin Plaut, says the ANC leader is still something of an enigma - part Zulu traditionalist, part international leader who jets around the world.

During the fight against apartheid Mr Zuma was head of internal security for the ANC, when some people were killed and some tortured.

It is not clear how much he knew or sanctioned, says our correspondent.

But Mr Zuma is also a skilled conciliator, credited with ending the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal and helping to bring peace to Burundi.

Opposition boost

The ANC lost Western Cape province - centre of the tourist industry - to the DA although it made inroads against the Inkatha Freedom Party in Kwazulu-Natal, home province of Mr Zuma.

Helen Zille, who received a hero's welcome in Cape Town, told the BBC the opposition had managed to reduce the ANC's grip on the country.

"The results are very good for South Africa," she told Focus on Africa.

"The ANC is below the two-thirds majority they need to adversely change the constitution."

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