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Leader takes helm in South Africa

South African President Jacob Zuma waves to supporters after his swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria on Saturday.

Associated Press

South African President Jacob Zuma waves to supporters after his swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria on Saturday.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — "The whistle has blown, the time has come! We're taking Jacob Zuma to the Union Building."

As rays of sunshine broke through after a morning's downpour on Saturday, the dignitaries at Zuma's inauguration in Pretoria leaped to their feet, danced and cheered as he was sworn in as president of South Africa.

At the top of their lungs, they sang about Zuma's ascension to the Union Building, South Africa's presidential residence and seat of government. The atmosphere reflected Zuma's earthy populism, and his rise from deep, rural poverty to be president.

His supporters in the ruling African National Congress celebrated his big day and their defeat of Zuma's archrival, former President Thabo Mbeki. When Mbeki arrived, they booed loudly.

For the first time, three wives were present for a South African inauguration, in a powerful symbol of just how different Zuma's presidency is from the chilly and urbane Mbeki. Zuma's relatives said they planned to slaughter six cattle to celebrate his inauguration as president.

Zuma relied on the Communist Party, unions and the ANC Youth League, which felt they had been shut out by Mbeki, to win the ANC presidency in December 2007 and topple Mbeki less than a year later. Zuma had to overcome rape charges in 2006 (he was acquitted) and corruption charges (dropped on a technicality) to make it to his date with destiny.

Former President Nelson Mandela, looking frail as he climbed out of the golf cart used to transport him to official occasions, received a deafening welcome at the inauguration.

Leader takes helm in South Africa 05/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 9:40pm]

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