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August 21, 2017

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ANC's Motlanthe becomes South African president

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- A former freedom fighter became the third president of post-apartheid South Africa on Thursday, but he is only expected to serve until a vote next year chooses ANC leader Jacob Zuma as his replacement.

South Africa's Parliament, which elects the president from among its members and is dominated by the African National Congress, favored former trade unionist and freedom fighter Kgalema Motlanthe with 269 votes to 50 for the main opposition party's nominee. He was sworn in shortly afterward at the presidential office in the Parliament complex.

Motlanthe replaced Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted as South Africa's president in a power struggle within the governing party.

Motlanthe, 59, is seen as a caretaker until elections next year, when Zuma is expected to become a legislator, then be chosen by Parliament as president.

Zuma, Mbeki's rival, watched Thursday's parliamentary vote from the public gallery. Zuma was not eligible for the presidency now because he is not a legislator.

At the announcement of Thursday's results _ which reflected unity within the ANC, despite the bruising battle between adherents of Mbeki and Zuma _ members of Parliament rose to cheer. Motlanthe gave a two-thumbs up salute to the gallery. Later he briefly addressed the house in measured tones that reflected his reputation as a cool, no-nonsense politician.

"I am deeply humbled and honored by the faith and confidence that the members of this assembly have in me," he said.

He stood, rocking slightly, as he recited the oath of office, pledging to "do justice to all and devote myself to the well-being of the republic and all its people." Then he sat to sign the oath, before being congratulated by ANC and opposition leaders and saluted by security chiefs.

The festive mood at Thursday's parliament session and swearing-in ceremony, with Chief Justice Pius Langa presiding in green robes at both, was in marked contrast to the tumultuous week in South African politics. ANC lawmakers sang anti-apartheid anthems and cheered when Motlanthe cast his vote.

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