As Chief Justice Pius Langa administered the oath to Jacob Zuma, Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi extended his hand across, past his wife, to long time Zuma ally Ranjeni Munusamy and clasped her hand firmly as if in prayer until the end of the oath.
Their comrade in arms, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande put his hand on his wife’s back and tapped his finger quietly, as if counting the seconds.
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema stared ahead, watching the process with deep concentration.
For Zuma’s greatest allies, the process appeared to last forever although it took less than two minutes. The group had earlier created an atmosphere of song and celebration on an occasion which is usually formal and serious. While the proceedings were being held up by the rain, they had started toyi-toying and chanted songs about Zuma’s triumphant passage to the Union Buildings.
Malema even boasted that ‘we said we will sing our way to the Union Buildings and that’s what we are doingâ€.
Taking to the podium as the new president, Zuma delivered a conciliatory message, and promised that the new government under his leadership would not deviate from Nelson Mandela’s vision of reconciliation and nation building.
‘When Madiba took the oath of office on the 10th of May 1994, it was one of the greatest historic moments of our country, Africa and the African diaspora. Madiba healed our wounds and established the rainbow nation very firmly. Everything we do must contribute in a direct and meaningful way to the improvement of the lives of our people. Zuma promised that his government would fast track service delivery for the people of South Africa and reiterated that he would not tolerate under-performance.
‘The dreams and hopes of all the people of our country must be fulfilled. There is no place for complacency, no place for cynicism, no place for excuses. Everything we do must contribute in a direct and meaningful way to the improvement of the lives of our people,â€ said Zuma.
Although former president Thabo Mbeki was booed by some of Zuma’s supporters on his arrival at the Union Buildings, Zuma described Mbeki as a true statesman, who contributed significantly towards strengthening ‘our democracy and laid a firm foundation for economic growth and development”.
‘He [Mbeki ] made our country an integral part of the continent and worked tirelessly for an African rebirth. Through his leadership, South Africa’s stature grew in the continent and globally.
‘In his last address to the nation as head of state in September last year, he [Mbeki] demonstrated his patriotism, and put the interests of the country above his personal interest,â€ said Zuma.
Zuma’s remarks on Mbeki were a departure from his criticism of the former president in the past few months. Although Zuma and other ANC leaders used the achievements made by the ANC government as a ticket to woo support during the party’s election campaign, Mbeki’s name never featured among those who contributed towards the government’s achievements.
‘We came all the way from Nkandla …’
Meanwhile on the south lawns, the crowd seemed relieved after the inauguration. They danced and sang and some rested on blankets on the wet grass.
‘We came all the way from Nkandla to put our homeboy on the throneâ€, said a group of jolly young men who were dancing to a house song played by YFM’s DJ Oskido.
Mothers fed their toddlers while having their own lunch, which was provided at the celebration.
”Thank God we came after the rain had stopped,” said Dorothy Makwana (34) from Polokwane. ‘I came to Pretoria on Thursday and stayed at my sister’s just so that I could make it here as soon as possible. I am so glad that this day came,â€ she said.
Many attended the inauguration not only to witness Zuma being sworn in, but for an opportunity to ask what they needed of the new president.
‘What else would I be here for if not to ask him to provide us with the jobs that we need?â€ said Velaphi Mdluli (25) of Katlehong. ‘We voted for Zuma because we want change and he is a man who understands our pain, so he will make sure that the change happensâ€, he said.