Jacob Zuma, leader of the African National Congress, has been sworn in as South Africa’s new president.

He took the oath in front of 5,000 invited guests and crowds of supporters who had gathered at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for the ceremony.

In a speech, he described it as a “moment of renewal” for South Africa, and vowed to work for reconciliation.

Correspondents described a festive atmosphere in the capital that could not be dampened by rain and cold.

Mr Zuma is expected to bring a populist touch, ensuring a very different presidency to that of Thabo Mbeki.

The 67-year-old was officially elected president by members of parliament on Wednesday, after the ANC won the general election two weeks ago.

He is due to unveil his new cabinet on Sunday.

Rain stopped

Jacob Zuma was sworn in as South Africa’s fourth president since apartheid ended 15 years ago.

“I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, observe uphold and maintain the constitution and all the other laws of the republic,” he said.

Mr Zuma was sworn in before 5,000 invited guests – including former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were among nearly 30 heads of state and government attending.

Thousands of supporters watched the ceremony on TV screens from lawns below the Union Buildings, the president’s office.

People began gathering in the capital before dawn, some singing songs in praise of their new president.

Many spoke of their excitement at being able to witness Jacob Zuma become president.

“We are rejoicing. He’s the people’s leader,” Nkompela Xolile told the BBC. “He knows the poor of this country.”

Even an earlier torrential downpour did not dampen spirits – in Zulu tradition, rain during an important event is a good sign.

The inauguration will be followed by a huge concert and several more concerts and parties planned throughout the day and evening.

Epic journey

Jacob Zuma’s journey to the Union Buildings has been an epic struggle, the BBC’s South Africa correspondent Peter Biles says.

He was sacked as vice-president by Thabo Mbeki four years ago after being implicated in a corruption scandal – allegations Mr Zuma always denied.

The case was eventually thrown out amid evidence of government meddling in the investigation.

In February 2006, the controversial polygamist was acquitted of rape in a separate case, though he was widely criticised for his comments about sex and HIV/Aids.

At the time, few observers believed Mr Zuma could remain a serious contender for president, our correspondent says.

But he fought to clear his name, retained enormous popularity, especially among his fellow Zulus, and led the ANC to a convincing election victory on a pro-poor populist ticket.

Mr Zuma has listed his five priorities as land redistribution, education, health, lowering crime levels and finding decent work for all South Africans.

He has promised a more hands-on approach and to work more closely with the opposition.

“We must move quickly to implement the framework agreed by the government, business and labour to protect jobs and boost the economy,” he said on Wednesday.

Source: BBC