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S. Africa swears in Zuma as fourth post-apartheid leader

JACOB Zuma took the presidential oath yesterday in the South African capital Pretoria and became leader of the continent's economic powerhouse after overcoming corruption and sex scandals and a struggle for control of his party.

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 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 party. The ANC won last month's parliamentary elections and Zuma was elected president by parliament on Wednesday.

After Zuma signed the oath of office yesterday, a Zulu praise singer in traditional animal skins and pink feathers took to the stage to extoll Zuma's virtues.

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

Sydney Mokoena, a 48-year-old Pretoria high school teacher, roused his 10-year-old daughter, Thula, at 4:30am to get to the lawns early. He said he admired Zuma for the calm he showed during his legal battles over corruption allegations and a 2006 rape trial that ended with acquittal.

Mokoena also said that while 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.

Zuma will be "a dynamic and vibrant president," Mokoena said. "That's what South Africa needs."

Mokoena laughed when Thula said she hoped for a glimpse of Mandela. Frail at 90 years old, Mandela makes few appearances, but he arrived for the inauguration in a golf cart to applause, wolf 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," Mokoena said.


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