“So help me God,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa as he took his oath of office and the crowd at Pretoria’s Loftus stadium erupted into cheers, vuvuzela blasts and flag-waving.
The cheers continued as, straight after that, paratroopers from the SA Air Force’s 44 Squadron dropped into the stadium and the military paraded on the pitch.
The crowd’s cheers outweighed their numbers, with empty blue seats visible at an event that has previously been held at the Union Buildings, but was moved to Loftus to save money.
Although some had misgivings about the inauguration being held at the home of the Vodacom Blue Bulls, in which the lifts are plastered with images of rugby players, others appeared not to mind too much.
In his inauguration speech, Ramaphosa said he was “aware of the challenges the country faces, but alive to the fact that the people were filled with hope for tomorrow”.
Cyril Ramaphosa arrives for his inauguration ceremony. (Twitter/Brand SA)
Ramaphosa referred often to Africa Day, also saying he was grateful for the heads of African states present at the event who chose to celebrate Africa Day at his inauguration.
It wasn’t long into his speech before Ramaphosa referenced Nelson Mandela, who was inaugurated as president 25 years ago, saying that the lives of South Africans had improved and their horizons had widened since obtaining freedom.
“But, despite our earnest efforts, many South Africans go to bed hungry and die of treatable diseases, and live lives of intolerable deprivation. In recent times they watched as those to whom they had surrendered their trust yielded to the temptations of power and riches … and squandered the resources,” he said.
“The challenges our country faces are huge and real, but they are not insurmountable and they can be solved. And I am here to say they can be solved.”
Ramaphosa spoke of a “new hope” and feeling of unity among South Africans despite a past of conflict and bitterness.
Read: Full Speech: Ramaphosa's first speech after inauguration
“We all share the same hopes and fears. We all want our children to have lives that are better than our own.
“This is a defining moment for our nation,” he said, adding that it marked a historical choice and it was “time for us to make the future that we yearn for”.
“Through our actions we will determine our destiny as a people. All South Africans want action, not just words and promises. And there shall be action in our land to reshape the country in the image of our dreams,” he said.
He outlined a vision for the nation – and what is set to be a busy presidency – in which there would be greater equality, more willingness to share what we have, an end to poverty within a generation, and the eradication of corruption.
He also called for more respect for women and a truly non-racial society.
“When we gather to celebrate the 50th year of our freedom, there should be no one unable to meet their basic needs and no child should go to bed hungry, and no one unable to find employment,” he said.
“Let us aspire for a future beyond the probable.”
Among the first to give Ramaphosa a standing ovation was staunch Zuma ally former state security minister David Mahlobo.
Before Ramaphosa arrived along with his wife, Tshepo Motsepe, the largest cheers of welcome went to former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, who were greeted with song.
Heads of state in attendance who received similarly resounding welcomes were Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, who were greeted with greater cheers than Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Cyril Ramaphosa alongside the military following his official inauguration. (PHOTO: GCIS)
The last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, was greeted by initial cheers and then resounding boos, which prompted programme director Baleka Mbete to admonish the crowd and ask them to respect those who arrived.
Bongi Ngema-Zuma, the fourth wife of former president Jacob Zuma, arrived to a comparatively muted welcome, with some in the stands breaking out into Umshini Wam’, the song popularised by her husband.
The inauguration was held at Loftus ostensibly to save money, but the event was still reported to cost R100 million.
But it was clear to those present what the money had been spent on, with scores of aircraft from the Air Force flying overheard in tight formation.
Preparations unde rway at Loftus Versfeld stadium ahead of Cyril Ramaphosa's inauguration (Sharlene Rood, News24)
Among the ordinary people who attended, everyone whom City Press spoke to said they were members of the ANC.
Not even an agonisingly early start dampened the spirits of party members. Many in the stands, wrapped in blankets and ANC kangas to ward off the early morning chill, had travelled from northern Limpopo – from Makhado, Vhembe and Burgersfort – the province where Ramaphosa spent most of his childhood.
“This is a big day for us,” they told City Press, “we wouldn’t miss it.”