Former president Nelson Mandela said on Friday South Africa was in “good hands” following the election of President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Mandela said in a congratulatory letter sent to the Union Buildings on Friday: “We have known you for a long time and you are eminently deserving of this high honour.

“You are a quiet, firm and principled leader, one who puts reason above emotions and one who seeks to unite rather than divide. “We know that our country is in good hands with you at the helm of government.”

Mandela sent his best wishes to Motlanthe for his appointment to the country’s highest office. “Please convey our congratulations and best wishes to the members of your Cabinet.”

Mandela expressed his deep appreciation of the service rendered to South Africa by outgoing President Thabo Mbeki. “The achievements of his government have indeed been impressive and we wish him well in whatever he chooses to pursue,” he said.

Mandela thanked Motlanthe for a two-hour visit he had spent with him on Tuesday — “and for the pleasant two hour visit with a retired old man”.

Mandela added: “As we said then, we recognise that from now on we will have to write official letters if we wish to have the pleasure of your company.” Motlanthe was sworn in as the country’s third president on Thursday.

Mbeki stepped down after the national executive committee of the African National Congress resolved to recall him.