Jacob Zuma took the presidential oath yesterday, vowing to work to fulfil the dreams of all South Africans amid a global economic meltdown after he overcame corruption and sex scandals to reach the nation's highest office.
Tens of thousands of spectators screamed their approval, dignitaries applauded and a Zulu praise singer in traditional animal skins extolled Mr Zuma's virtues.
"The dreams and hopes of all the people of our country must be fulfilled," Mr Zuma promised. "There is no place for complacency, no place for cynicism, no place for excuses."
South Africa's fourth president since apartheid ended 15 years ago is no stranger to struggle. Mr Zuma, 67, is a former guerrilla fighter and intelligence chief for the African National Congress who has since survived corruption and sex scandals and an internal power struggle in his party.
The ANC won last month's parliamentary elections and Mr Zuma was elected President by parliament on Wednesday.
Many impoverished black South Africans believe Mr Zuma's personal battles and eventual triumph give him special insight into their own struggles and aspirations.
Tens of thousands broke 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 will act as first lady. Yesterday, all three were reported present but only Ms Khumalo accompanied him to the stage, where Mr Zuma dropped to his knees before Nelson Mandela in a traditional sign of respect.
Mr Zuma now leads a country where at least a quarter of the work force is unemployed and 1,000 people die of Aids every day. He is promising to speed up delivery of houses, clinics, schools, running water and electricity. But he has acknowledged the difficulties amid a global economic meltdown.