One who received a resounding cheer upon arrival was Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose government recently denied entry to South African pop group Freshly Ground.
Another colleague was Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who took time off the burgeoning crisis at home where terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, to rub shoulders with world leaders.
They were joined by Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who recently passed draconian legislation suppressing gay rights.
Mugabe has been in office since 1987, and Museveni since 1986. Despite some of the controversial leaders at the inauguration actor Nomonde Mbusi was optimistic about the way forward.
Known for her roles in Usindiso and acclaimed theatre production Flipping the Script, Mbusi also appeared in the 2007 Proudly South African commercial by the International Marketing Campaign.
Mbusi portrays the young African woman with a child strapped to her back standing in line waiting to vote.
“The advert wasn’t around the elections, it was more about being South African and what we’ve done before and what we can do as a people,” Mbusi said.
But, she said, “I do have hope, in fact I have belief, which is stronger than hope. I believe in my country, in us, in the future of it all.”
The problem lies, she feels, in citizens giving their power away.
“I feel that we put so much power into politicians hands and people in authority that we end up not looking at ourselves and our individual roles.”
Mbusi said it made no sense “to put so much power in somebody else’s hands because at the end of the day they are there to serve us and to do what we tell them to do.
“But we do not see that as South Africans. I believe in the people of South Africa, in each one of us. It is us who need to do the work and the day that we look at us as the ones with the power is the day that we change things.”