A screengrab of President Jacob Zuma delivering his 2014 State of the Nation Address.

Parliament, Cape Town - South Africans have to honour the legacy of former president Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address on Thursday.

Zuma told MPs that Mandela's death "caused untold pain to our people and beyond our borders".

"We have a duty to take his legacy forward," he said.

Zuma went on to list the achievements of South Africa's successive democratic governments since Mandela took power in 1994, starting with burying an oppressive minority regime. They had made "South Africa a better place to live in now than it ever was before".

But he said the country still faced inequality, poverty, and unemployment and the government's efforts were focused on eradicating these problems.

Earlier Zuma was greeted by a standing ovation and loud cheers in the National Assembly chamber.

Zuma entered minutes after observing a military salute, followed by a 21-gun salute. A hush fell over the chamber and MPs stood while the national anthem was played.

Women ululated and a praise singer welcomed Zuma before he took to the podium to deliver his sixth state-of-the-nation address.

Prior to his entrance, MPs applauded premiers, who were the first to be ushered into the chamber as part of the ceremonial procession.

The premiers took their seats in front of the podium.

Members of the judiciary were led into the chamber by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

The standing ovation was initiated by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who jumped up first, to lead the applause when Zuma entered.