All of the country's former presidents at ceremony except for Zuma

PRETORIA: Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday took the oath of office as president of South Africa at a colorful ceremony, vowing "a new era" amid expectations he will revive the economy and fight corruption. Foreign heads of state from more than 40 countries were among 36,000 people who witnessed the event replete with pomp, military honors and an air force flyover at a rugby stadium in Pretoria.

The 66-year-old leader was unanimously elected by parliament to a five-year term after his African National Congress (ANC) won legislative elections on May 8, taking 230 of the 400 seats. The ANC garnered 57.5 percent of the vote, its weakest result since apartheid was overturned 25 years ago. Ramaphosa is a trade unionist who played a prominent part in the struggle to end white-minority rule before becoming a successful businessman.

He faces a herculean task to tackle the country's many problems - from a sickly economy in which more than a quarter of the workforce is jobless, to entrenched crime and corruption and land ownership that remains overwhelmingly in the hands of whites. Many solutions will require him to inch his way along a high wire, balancing leftwing calls for radical change with investors' demands for caution. "A new era has dawned in our country. A brighter day is rising upon South Africa," Ramaphosa said in his inaugural address.

"This is a defining moment for a young nation like ours. It is a time for us to make the future that we yearn for. "I pledge here today that I will serve you …to build the South Africa that we all want and deserve. "Let us declare that when we gather to celebrate the 50th year of our freedom there shall no longer be any person in this land who is unable to meet their basic needs".

Cabinet tensions
Ramaphosa's first test will be choosing a cabinet - a task beset by rival factions within the ANC. He is expected to name his new team within days, but the choice of vice president hangs in the balance after deputy David Mabuza said Wednesday he would defer taking his seat in parliament. An ANC integrity commission report has alleged that Mabuza - the party's No. 2 - "prejudiced the integrity of the ANC and brought the organization into disrepute". Ramaphosa first took power last year when the ANC forced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma to resign after nine years in office, and vowed to root out corruption.

Zuma a no-show
Breaking with tradition Ramaphosa's swearing-in ceremony was moved from the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings - the seat of government, where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country's first black president in 1994. All other leaders after Mandela have taken their oaths at the Union Buildings, whose grounds can accommodate only up to 4,500 people. But this year the event was moved to the 52,000-seater Loftus Versfeld rugby stadium to allow more people to attend.

All of the country's former presidents were at the ceremony except for Zuma, who on Friday attended a court hearing on corruption charges in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg. He told supporters afterwards he was too busy to go to Pretoria for Rhamaphosa's inauguration. "There is no time. I am fighting to stay out of jail," Zuma said. One of his several wives was to attend the ceremony however.

More than 2,500 police were deployed for security, while a battalion of soldiers performed ceremonial parades inside the stadium. The air force put a spectacular aerobatics display overhead. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has castigated the government for what it called a "wasteful" expenditure of 120 million rand ($8.3 million) for the ceremony. "It is no secret that the South African economy is in dire straits," senior DA lawmaker John Steenhuisen said.