Improving the lives of the impoverished black majority has been an ANC policy promise since they took power in the first all-race polls in 1994.
However, this remains an elusive goal, hampered at present by a worsening economy.
Zuma will have to manage the expectations of free-market capitalists - who have typically seen their idioms take prominence in South Africa - and labour and communist allies who propose increasing fiscal spending to help those living in poverty.
Zuma ran on a platform of hope - a surprise to many considering his image as a politician surrounded by cronies and with past accusations of corruption - and has promised to accelerate provision of housing, clinics, schools, running water and electricity.
But as job losses increase - about 208,000 between the last quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009 - and economy drops - with gross domestic product falling by 1.8 per cent in the last quarter of 2008 - government tax revenues will also diminish.
"They've manoeuvred themselves into a tight corner," Richard Downing, an economist for the South Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said of ANC pledges to spend more on the poor.
However, Downing said that the party's promise to improve government efficiency could succeed in helping the country by improving service delivery, particularly for firms, at low cost.
"It could make a vast difference in how the economy is run ... And it could raise the spirit of the people," he said.
Zuma - who spent 10 years in prison under apartheid - will make his cabinet decisions on Sunday.
Trevor Manuel, the finance minister credited internationally for increasing economic growth via free-market policies, is expected to be a prominent member of the new cabinet.
The health and education posts are also likely to be keenly watched, with the past administration being viewed as inept in dealing with the country's Aids crisis and education being seen as a means of blacks reversing inequalities imposed by apartheid rule.
There are more than five million people living with HIV and Aids among South Africa's almost 50m population.