S Africa swears in Zuma as president

Jacob Zuma took the presidential oath today and became leader of the continent's economic powerhouse.

Traditional dancers perform before the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa.
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PRETORIA // Jacob Zuma took the presidential oath today and became leader of the continent's economic powerhouse after overcoming corruption and sex scandals and a struggle for control of his party. Mr Zuma, the fourth president since apartheid ended 15 years ago, enjoys a popularity often compared to Nelson Mandela's. Many impoverished black South Africans believe Mr Zuma's personal battles and eventual triumph give him special insight into their own struggles and aspirations.

Zuma survived corruption and sex scandals and an internal power struggle so vicious it led to a split in his African National Congress (ANC) party. The ANC won last month's parliamentary elections and Mr Zuma was elected president by parliament on Wednesday. After Mr Zuma signed the oath of office today, a Zulu praise singer in traditional animal skins and pink feathers took to the stage to extol the virtues of Mr Zuma.

Tens of thousands had broken into spontaneous song when Mr Zuma arrived, beaming, accompanied by his senior wife, Sizakele Khumalo. Mr Zuma's unabashed polygamy has raised questions about which of his three current wives may act as first lady. Today, all three were reported present but only Khumalo accompanied him to the stage, where Mr Zuma dropped down onto his knees before Mr Mandela in a traditional sign of respect.

Sydney Mokoena, a 48-year-old Pretoria high schoolteacher, roused his 10-year-old daughter, Thula, at 4.30am to get to the lawns early. He said he admired Mr Zuma for the calm he showed during his legal battles over corruption allegations that have now been dropped and a 2006 rape trial that ended with acquittal. Mr Mokoena also said that while Mr Zuma may not have had much formal education, his leadership of the ANC's intelligence wing during the anti-apartheid struggle was proof he was smart enough to be president.

"Mr Zuma will be a dynamic and vibrant president," Mr Mokoena said. "That's what South Africa needs. He's down to earth and he'll listen." Mr Mokoena laughed when his daughter said she hoped for a glimpse of Mr Mandela. Frail at 90 years old, Mr Mandela makes few appearances, but he arrived for Saturday's inauguration in a golf cart to applause, whistles and the announcer's cheer of "Viva Mandela, Viva".

"We can have three or four or five presidents, people will still be talking about Mandela," Mr Mokoena said. Mr Mandela and Mr Zuma share rural roots and an easy warmth in crowds, though Zuma's origins are much humbler. Mr Mandela has ties to Xhosa tribal royalty and was groomed for leadership from an early age, attending some of the best schools and universities then open to blacks and earning a law degree.

Mr Zuma, 67, herded cows instead of attending school as a boy, began working as a teenager to help his impoverished family, and rose through the trade union movement and the African National Congress guerrilla force. *AP