Thousands of South Africans braved the rain and flocked on to the south lawn of the Union Buildings on Saturday, where ANC president Jacob Zuma will be inaugurated as the country’s head of state.
Among the guests wrapped in blankets and sitting under umbrellas are Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and his wife Maria Ramos, former transport minister Mac Maharaj, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, the new speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, Zuma’s lawyers Michael Hulley and Kemp J Kemp as well as former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus, who arrived in a media bus early on Saturday morning. In Africa it is considered a blessing when it pours during a ceremony.
The rain drenched the seats in the VIP area, and some of the guests sought shelter in the media area.
The Shaik brothers Yunis and Mo arrived just after 9am. Their brother Schabir, whom the family said was too ill to attend the inauguration, is Zuma’s former financial advisor. Former speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala and Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Barney Pityana and Minerals and Energy Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica were also among the guests.
Among the crowd on the lawn is Zuma’s nephew, 47-year-old Babanzi Zuma from Nkandla, who said his family was too big for the organisers to accommodate them.
‘Ubaba [Zuma] has had a lot of problems that he came across to get here and today I’m very proud of him and honoured to be here watching him become president,â€ said Babanzi Zuma.
Another extremely excited South African on the lawn was 43-year-old Thoko Miya, the cousin of former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Miya arrived at 4am from Tembisa in Ekurhuleni.
‘Our president has come far with politics, which I think will make him a very good president,â€ said Miya.
‘People are surprised that I support Zuma, I love the ANC and did not join it for family. I joined it because I love the party.â€
As part of his oath, Zuma will promise to ‘obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other laws of the republicâ€.
Opposition parties have consistently criticised the Zuma-led ANC of disrespecting and threatening the independence of the Constitution.
Zuma will be the fourth democratically-elected president of the country after Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted by the party before the end of his term in 2008.
The event officially begins at 11am. The new president is scheduled to address the crowd after the swearing-in ceremony.
For Zuma (67), taking the oath was unthinkable during turbulent years when graft and rape charges nearly ruined him, crises that might have buried many politicians.
At the top of Zuma’s agenda will be navigating Africa’s biggest economy through what could already be its first recession in 17 years.
One of his big challenges will be juggling the interests of markets and labour and communist allies who want more government spending on millions still living in abject poverty 15 years after the end of apartheid.
Investors are eager to see who forms his economic team and are especially interested in the fate of Manuel, praised for his fiscal management.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the swearing in ceremony scheduled for 9am GMT, Manuel expressed confidence in Zuma’s abilities.
”Frequently people look for experience. But what matters is attitude and aptitude,” he said. ”The mood is very buoyed. Feeling very strong. There’s a big wave to ride.”
Stacking the government, to be named on Sunday, with loyalists could hurt the credibility of Zuma, who has said ANC officials should not expect positions just because of their loyalty.
Mike Davies, Middle East & Africa analyst at political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, predicts Zuma will be pragmatic.
”Cabinet appointments, which will … include a mix of loyalists and experience, should boost confidence that president elect Jacob Zuma’s administration will not make radical changes to economic policy,” he said.
”Leftists are unlikely to be given portfolios of key concern to investors.”
”I am extremely happy. Zuma will give us houses, fight corruption and crime. We got here, we voted for him and we expect him to fight for South Africa,” said Mirriam Segabutla. Others were cautious.
”Zuma has to change a lot of things because we voted for him. He can’t afford to disappoint us,” said Barbara Nkadimeng.
His political career has been fraught with crises. Then president Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma in 2005 after he was implicated in a corruption scandal.
Zuma battled graft charges for eight years which were dropped just before the election on a technicality. He was acquitted of rage charges in 2006 but his image still suffers from the case.
Strong support from union and the communist allies and his resilience and charm helped him survive.
Zuma has said he will consult widely before making major policy decisions, an approach that may ease opposition fears that the new administration will stifle dissent.
The charismatic leader is known for his mediation skills, which could help him prevent ANC power struggles which led dissidents to form a breakaway party.