PRETORIA: South African President Jacob Zuma vowed to spearhead a “radical social economic transformation” as he was sworn in for a second term before dignitaries and a cheering crowd of thousands on Saturday.
“Today marks the beginning of the second phase of our transition from apartheid to a national democratic society,” he said, promising more black empowerment and a bigger economic role for the state. The ceremony took place in the amphitheatre of Pretoria’s English colonial-style Union Buildings — the seat of government — where just five months before Nelson Mandela’s body lay in state. Zuma paid tribute to the former leader and founder of the nation, hailing the work he did to transform South Africa from international pariah to toast of the world.
Kings, presidents and prime ministers from across Africa, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, but none from Europe or North America, looked on. Zuma had a rocky first term, repeatedly criticised for alleged corruption and high unemployment, as well as enduring daily protests over poor public services. After a turbulent five years there was an air of relief about Saturday’s celebrations. After chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng administered the oath of office and concluded the legal formalities Zuma broke into a broad smile.
A traditional praise singer clad in leopard skin hailed Zuma as a “warrior for social justice” declaring “the bones of our ancestors are vibrating” as women in the audience ululated. Military helicopters and a low-flying South African Airways Airbus A340-600 buzzed the crowd, reliving a similar jubilant fly-over a decade earlier when the newly freed “Rainbow Nation” won the rugby world cup in Johannesburg. But the mood of the nation is much changed as Zuma enters the coda of a deeply controversial political career. Mandela is gone, and so too the youthful exuberance of a reborn nation released from decades of racist rule.
South Africa recently lost its place as the continent’s largest economy to Nigeria, and is seems unable to tackle levels of inequality that are as extreme as anywhere on earth. While voters at the May 7 election showed near boundless loyalty to the ANC, which won 62 percent of the popular vote, their allegiance to Zuma is less clear. One of the thousands who gathered, Mahlomola Khumalo did not vote for Zuma, but wanted to be there to help the country unite. “It was very important because it’s for our nation so we can support the president and support our nation,” he said during the long hours spent waiting for proceedings to get under way.
In Zuma’s 2009 inaugural address he implored the government to “hold ourselves to the highest standards of service, probity and integrity.” Five years on, having brushed off sex scandals, numerous corruption charges and accusations of peddling influence to well-connected businessmen, he still faces questions about how $23 million of taxpayers cash was used to do-up his private home.
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