Zuma inaugurated as South African president after Sanskrit chants (Lead)

May 9th, 2009 - 6:35 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Pretoria, May 9 (IANS) A Hindu prayer started off the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings here Saturday.

As Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari joined heads of state of 28 other countries, South African Hindu Maha Sabha president Ashwin Trikamjee recited a few lines in Sanskrit before translating them into English and making a plea for divine guidance to assist Zuma in resolving a range of challenges facing the country under his leadership.

The Hindu prayer was followed by similar ones from representatives of the Muslim, Christian and African Traditional Religion (ATR) faiths before Acting President Kgalema Motlanthe bestowed the country’s greatest civil honours, the Order of Mapungubwe, on Zuma.

Keenly looking on were the two previous democratically elected presidents of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

The frail Mandela, who was the first to stand at the same forum in 1994, was clearly beaming with pride despite striking a somewhat sad figure with a blanket over his lower body as protection against the cold.

Mbeki, who was recalled by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) following Zuma’s election to the presidency of the ANC last year, warmly embraced Zuma as he arrived on stage.

Arriving guests interviewed on television detailed Zuma’s trials and tribulations on the path to the highest position in the land, which included being cleared on allegations of corruption and rape of a family friend.

Even the weather seemed to turn in Zuma’s favour as the skies cleared just before the inauguration and the 3,000-odd guests in the arena at the Union Buildings were able to furl their umbrellas.

The South African Air Force announced the cancellation of an aerobatics display because of the weather, but it finally did take place, together with a 21-gun cannon salute over the city, after Zuma had been sworn in by Chief Justice Pius Langa.

As widely anticipated by analysts here, President Zuma’s inaugural address focussed on reconciliation as he started by lauding former presidents Mandela and Willem de Klerk for having led South Africa to peaceful transition to democracy.

“This is indeed a moment of renewal and an opportunity to discover that which binds us together as a nation,” Zuma said.

“The unity of our nation should be a priority for all sectors of our society (which shares) a common desire for a better life and to live in peace and harmony.”

Emphasising that his government would shun laziness and incompetence, Zuma said there was a place for all South Africans, black and white, in a partnership for reconstruction, development and progress.

The new president also reaffirmed South Africa’s commitment to participate in bi- and multilateral forums to wipe out poverty.

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