Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in Tuesday as South Africa’s first black president in a joyous celebration that ended the agony of apartheid and marked an official welcome for the world’s newest democracy into the community of nations.
“The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!” Mandela proclaimed in an impassioned inaugural address that appealed for peace, reconciliation and healing in this troubled land. “Let freedom reign.”
As a symbol of his commitment to human rights, he said the new government would consider granting amnesty to prisoners “as a matter of urgency.” He did not provide details.
Princes, presidents, potentates and prime ministers--6,036 dignitaries in all, from nearly every country in the world--watched as Mandela strode to the podium, carefully put on his gold reading glasses and began to read the 133-word oath of office with his left hand on a goatskin-covered Bible.
He was so eager he began before the chief justice, Michael Corbett, had asked him. “In the presence of those assembled here and in full realization of the high calling I assume as president . . . ,” Mandela then began to recite again.
When he finished, at precisely 12:17 p.m., Mandela raised his right hand and added, “So help me God,” and the new South Africa was officially born.
His amplified voice echoed down a long hill and boomed out across a multiracial sea of tens of thousands of supporters, while his radiant smile beamed from giant television screens. Many wept, hugged or ululated in glee as the authority of government was finally handed from the white minority to the black majority, and Mandela’s triumph became their own.
He dedicated the sun-dappled day of Western pomp and African tribal ceremony to the millions who dreamed, fought or died for liberty here. In a rich, resonant voice, he pledged to “lead our country out of the valley of darkness.”
The inauguration, in the open-air amphitheater of the stately Union Buildings, the government’s seat of power and the emblem of white rule, completed a remarkable personal journey for Mandela.
At 75, he has devoted his life--including 27 years as a martyr in prison--to ending the injustice of apartheid and guiding Africa’s richest nation from the brink of civil war to a chance for peace.
His metamorphosis from enemy of the state to father of the nation was best symbolized, perhaps, after the speech.
The new black commander in chief turned to the wall of bulletproof glass, suddenly required to protect him, and peered out to review an honor guard of marching troops from the army he once fought as a guerrilla leader. The white chiefs of the armed services, their chests hung with medals, stood approvingly at his side as cannons fired a salute.
Moments later, more than 60 Mirage fighter jets, trainer planes and military helicopters roared overhead in a flyby of six diamond-shaped formations.
The final group spewed brilliant long plumes of red, yellow, black, red, white and blue vapor--the colors of the new South African flag. Four choppers then clattered by, with huge flags fluttering on poles hung beneath them.
Earlier, in his address, Mandela paid tribute to the security forces, including the police, for their protection of last month’s democratic elections and their transition from “bloodthirsty forces which still refuse to see the light.”
“The time for the healing of the wounds has come,” he added.
Mandela denounced the brutalities of legalized racial segregation as “an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too, too long.” He spoke movingly of “the depth of pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict.” South Africa was “spurned, outlawed and isolated” by the world “precisely because it had become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression.”
But the first all-race voting produced “political emancipation,” he said. “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”
In a land where the most emotive annual holiday is the Day of the Covenant, when white Afrikaners give thanks for a bloody 19th-Century victory over Zulu warriors, Mandela pledged his own “covenant” to build a society in which all South Africans are “assured of their inalienable right to human dignity--a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
The dignitaries wore a riot of colorful national costumes, from flowing African robes to billowing silk saris. And there was an astonishing array of headgear, from flowing turbans and tasseled fezzes, to kaffiyehs and Panama hats. Others simply shielded their heads with inaugural programs as the hot sun burned off the morning mist and the 11 a.m. ceremony was delayed until the heat of noon.
The crowd interrupted Mandela several times with applause. But the cheers were loudest when he spoke most dramatically. “Never,” he said, “never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. . . . “
He singled out for praise the last white president, Frederik W. de Klerk, who freed him from prison in February, 1990. They joined forces to use peaceful negotiations to unscramble one of the world’s worst racial conflicts. The result, after four years, has been universal suffrage elections and multi-party democracy in a former police state.
De Klerk, 58, head of the National Party, and Thabo Mbeki, 52, chairman of the African National Congress, will join Mandela’s coalition government as deputy executive presidents. Both were sworn in before Mandela. De Klerk chose Afrikaans, the language of his forebears, while Mbeki used English.
After Mandela’s speech, leaders of the new government went down to the lawns below, where a concert and dance performance was under way, to speak to the gathered crowds. Mandela’s remarks were probably most generous toward the man with whom he has repeatedly clashed in public. He said De Klerk had “engraved his niche” in the country’s history and praised him as “one of the greatest reformers, one of the greatest sons of our soil.”
But Mandela’s comments were less notable than his security. The three men, plus the wives of De Klerk and Mbeki, stood in what appeared to be a giant shower stall. Constructed of thick bulletproof glass, the enclosure made the group look like a diorama in a natural history museum.
The amphitheater held a partial Who’s Who of world leaders. Vice President Al Gore, his wife, Tipper, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton led a U.S. delegation of 65, the largest of any nation. Gore’s third-row seat ultimately wound up in the fifth row as new chairs were hastily added up front for late-arriving, or disgruntled, leaders.
One of the last to arrive was Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who wore his olive-green military uniform. The gray-bearded president of one of the world’s last Communist countries got a front-row seat and drew cries of “Viva Castro!” as well as the greatest gaggle of photographers. Castro told reporters he had read Gore’s book on the environment during the long flight from Havana, but there were no plans for the two men to meet.
Elsewhere in the audience were Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The two men met together with Mandela on Monday.
South Africa’s two former colonial rulers, Britain and the Netherlands, were represented by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and consort of Queen Elizabeth II, and the Prince of Orange. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was attending the inauguration in happy violation of protocol, heaped praise on Mandela in a speech of introduction at the official lunch.
When it was his turn, Mandela spoke with emotion of an unlikely trio of old friends whom he had invited as special VIPs to the inauguration: his former jailers. He publicly thanked the three white guards who helped him most in his years as the world’s best-known political prisoner. “I wanted them to share this because they had a part in it,” he explained.
After the Celebration, a Host of Problems
South African President Nelson Mandela has pressing problems to tackle when the euphoria of election victory ends.
* Unemployment: 40%
* Illiteracy: 50%
* High expectations: The black majority, 75% of the population, expects him to keep his promise of providing jobs, 2 million houses, education, health care and services such as water and electricity to millions during the next five years.
* Violence: Clashes continue between Mandela’s African National Congress and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal province.
* Politics of compromise: The governing structure of national unity--in which Mandela’ ANC party must compromise, not fight, with the opposition--could impede quick action.
Source: Associated Press