Heavy rains drenched the South African capital Pretoria as crowds gathered Saturday morning to watch Jacob Zuma's inauguration. However, when it was time to take the oath of office, the sun broke through the clouds and Jacob Zuma became the fourth democratically elected president of South Africa.
He began his inaugural address by thanking Nelson Mandela. "He made reconciliation the central theme of his term of office. We will not deviate from that nation building task. Thank you Madiba for showing us the way," said Zuma, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
It has been a long journey for the 67-year old Zuma who herded cows as a child and left school as a teenager to support his impoverished family. His political life began in the trade unionist movement and he joined the African National Congress in 1959. In 1963 he was arrested as he was leaving the country and spent 10 years imprisoned on Robben Island with fellow ANC member and former President Nelson Mandela.
Nearly 30 heads of state were in attendance including African Union chairman Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and King Mswati III of Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarch. There were no heads of state of western powers in attendance. All of them sent lower ranking ministers as representatives.
Many challenges ahead
Zuma takes office at a time of slowing growth in South Africa which is enduring its first recession in 17 years. Investors are keenly watching the makeup of his economic team, and are paying close attention to the fate of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a man who has been praised for his fiscal management.
Analysts are also watching to see how Zuma will reward the communists and unionists who stood by him throughout his career and foreign investors fear he may move the economy left.
Zuma acknowledged the tough economic climate in his speech saying, "we must acknowledge that we find ourselves in difficult economic times. Jobs are being lost in every economy across the world. We will not be spared the negative impact, and are beginning to feel the pinch."
Given the global economic downturn, Zuma may be hard pressed to make good on his generous promises of more jobs and improved services.