PRETORIA: South African President Jacob Zuma promised on Saturday to push through business-friendly reforms, signaling he would use a sweeping election victory to pursue economic growth in the face of leftist opposition.
His vows to create jobs and ramp up infrastructure projects came after his ruling ANC government dispatched its armed forces to quell post-election unrest in a Johannesburg slum, one of its more visible crack-downs on disorder in recent memory.
Burdened with sluggish economic growth and damaging strikes in his first term, the scandal-hit Zuma is at pains to soothe investor concerns about Africa’s most developed economy. Over the last year he has spent less time on the wishes of unions, whose long walkouts have stunted growth.
While the African National Congress took a convincing 62 percent in South Africa’s fifth post-apartheid elections, the former liberation movement also faces rising anger from the millions still stuck in grinding poverty.
“This mandate gives us the green light to implement the National Development Plan and to promote inclusive economic growth and job creation,” Zuma said in his acceptance speech, referring to a pro-business platform adopted by the ANC in 2012.
He is widely expected to now appoint a technocrat cabinet in an attempt to revive the economy and tackle 25 percent unemployment.
Zuma hinted this week that the ANC needed to take a more pro-business stance, accusing the main platinum union of irresponsibility for dragging out a four-month wage strike.
Nelson Mandela’s former liberation movement won 249 of the 400 seats in parliament, the electoral commission said in its official tally.
Its main rival, the Democratic Alliance, won 89 seats while the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) took 25 seats.
Overnight, the government sent the military into the black township of Alexandra to squash post-election protests in which 59 people were arrested for public violence.
Violent protests – often over lack of access to running water or electricity – are common in South Africa’s impoverished black townships, although military intervention has been rare.
On Friday, police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators who burned tires and barricaded roads in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said.
But the military was deployed to back up the police when the security situation deteriorated overnight and will remain “as long as required”, army spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.
Malila said Alexandra was “calm this morning”, and no further incidents have been reported.
Voting was otherwise largely peaceful at thousands of polling stations nationwide. While Zuma did not mention the protests in his speech, his protege-turned-adversary Julius Malema called for calm.
“People in Alexandra, we call on you to accept defeat. Do it in a dignified manner,” said Malema, a populist politician who founded the left-wing EFF after being expelled from the ANC. “Don’t put South Africa into ashes because of election outcomes.”
As many as 400 people had gathered on Friday outside a court in Alexandra to demand the release of other protesters arrested a day earlier, police spokesman Malila said.
On Thursday more than 30 people were detained after an electoral commission office was torched in Alexandra. Both groups of detainees were due to appear in court on Monday.
By calling in the army, the ANC government appeared to be taking a harder tack against public unrest than it has in the recent past.
When violent labor unrest swept through South Africa’s platinum-mining belt in 2012, the government put the army on standby but did not dispatch it.