, PRETORIA, May 9 – Jacob Zuma was sworn in as South Africa’s fourth democratic president on Saturday, at a glitzy inauguration that capped his dramatic political comeback from bruising corruption allegations.
Zuma vowed to "protect and promote the rights of all South Africans," as he took the oath administered by Constitutional Court Chief Justice Pius Langa.
"I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the republic," he said.
He recited the oath in front of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, with former president Thabo Mbeki and outgoing leader Kgalema Motlanthe also on hand.
Zuma was accompanied to the stage by the first of his three current wives, Sizakele Khumalo, with nearly 30 visiting leaders among the 5,000 invited guests at the Union Buildings, the hilltop complex that is the seat of South Africa’s government in Pretoria.
Thousands of supporters gathered in the wintry rain from before dawn to watch the proceedings set up with televisions showing the proceedings.
The 67-year-old Zuma was elected president by parliament, after the ANC swept to victory in general elections two weeks ago, despite frustrations at poor public services after 15 years as the ruling party.
The ceremony’s budget was reported at 75 million rands (8.9 million dollars, 6.6 million euros), excluding the cost of security. But Zuma has vowed to get straight down to work with a cabinet he will unveil on Sunday.
His anti-poverty campaign and pledges for rapid improvements to education, unemployment and the crime situation received popular support and he has promised to work quickly to boost limping public services while bolstering the economy against a looming recession.
Speculation has been rife over who he will appoint to his cabinet, after his predecessor Thabo Mbeki was criticised for keeping on lacklustre ministers.
He also faces pressure from leftist backers who supported him throughout his eight-year corruption trial, but has warned that posts will not necessarily be kept for friends.
Portfolios being closely watched are: finance, with the popular Trevor Manuel tipped for a cabinet redeployment; health, a one-time fiasco of AIDS denials, only recently revived under Barbara Hogan; and education, which is likely to be split in two.
A polygamist with 19 children and a sketchy history with the courts, Zuma embraces his Zulu tradition with a passion that has proved unnerving to some at home and abroad.
He has been billed as the ultimate come-back kid after fighting a political duel which resulted in Mbeki stepping down and having corruption charges dramatically dropped just weeks before the elections.
The inauguration has already drawn complaints from activists over high-profile visitors from countries with dictatorial or scandal-plagued governments.
These include officials from North Korea, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and King Mswati III of Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarch. Libyan leader and African Union head Moamer Kadhafi is also attending.
Major western countries sent lower-ranking officials, including Britain’s junior foreign minister Mark Malloch Brown, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and French secretary of state for human rights Rama Yade.
The onlookers were undeterred by the rains, which cleared just before the ceremony began.
"I came all the way from KwaZulu Natal to be part of this event, I wouldn’t miss it for the world," said an elated Sipho Zondi who travelled from Zuma’s home province with six friends by train.
"Rain is a sign of good luck, in African culture when it rains during your ceremony it means thing are going to go well for you. So in this case it means Zuma is going to have a good term in office."