JOHANNESBURG – Jacob Zuma is sworn in as president of South Africa on Saturday after a remarkable political comeback, taking over a faltering economy plagued by crime, poverty and AIDS.

Zuma, 67, taking the oath of office was unthinkable during turbulent years when graft and rape charges nearly ruined him, crises that might have buried many politicians.

At the top of Zuma's agenda will be navigating Africa's biggest economy through what could already be its first recession in 17 years.

The charismatic politician won a wide mandate to rule with a ruling African National Congress landslide victory in the April 22 election.

South Africans respect the ANC for its anti-apartheid struggle but they are growing impatient with a number of problems which Zuma has promised to tackle.

One of his big challenges will be juggling the interests of markets and labor and communist allies who want more government spending on millions still living in abject poverty 15 years after the end of apartheid.

Investors are eager to see who forms his economic team and are especially interested in the fate of respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, praised for his fiscal management.

Stacking the government, to be named on Sunday, with loyalists could hurt the credibility of Zuma, who has said ANC officials should not expect positions just because of their loyalty.


Mike Davies, Middle East & Africa analyst at political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, predicts Zuma will be cautious.

Cabinet appointments, which will ... include a mix of loyalists and experience, should boost confidence that President-elect Jacob Zuma's administration will not make radical changes to economic policy, he said.

Leftists are unlikely to be given portfolios of key concern to investors.

Zuma has said he will consult widely before making major policy decisions, an approach that may ease opposition fears that the new administration will stifle dissent.

The charismatic leader is known for his mediation skills, which could help him prevent ANC power struggles which led dissidents to form a breakaway party.

Zuma was jailed for 10 years under apartheid before going into exile and heading up the ANC's intelligence, struggle credentials that helped his rise to the presidency.