By MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Wednesday, May 11, 1994
PRETORIA—Climaxing his journey from political prisoner to nation builder, Nelson Mandela assumed the office of president of South Africa yesterday vowing that “never again” would racial exploitation be tolerated.
In a joyous ceremony that marked the end of the country’s pariah status and celebrated the nation’s transformation into a beacon of racial reconciliation, Mandela proclaimed: “Let freedom reign.”
The American delegation included U.S. Vice President Al Gore, First Lady Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson. Gore said South Africa has sent a powerful message to the world that differences can be set aside for the sake of a nation.
Watched by international visitors including Vice President Gore, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, and Cuban President Fidel Castro, Mandela spoke in deep, measured tones as he swore allegiance to the new republic and its constitution.
As he said, “So help me God,” shouts of “Viva” rang out from the huge, multi-racial crowd gathered at the foot of the Union Buildings amphitheater.
In his inaugural address, Mandela, 75, urged South Africans to forget past bitterness and unite to end poverty, suffering and discrimination.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign,” Mandela said, standing on the outdoor podium enclosed in 7 tons of bullet-proof glass.
He made special mention of the role played by President of F.W. de Klerk, with whom he shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and recalled the colleagues and comrades who died in the struggle for freedom.
A glorious sun burned away the autumn morning mist as the estimated 50,000 people in the audience watched on mammoth television screens as dignitaries arrived from all over the world.
The audience, made up of largely ANC supporters, was never at loss for entertainment. American and African jazz, as well as South African folk music was also piped in over mammoth speakers.
Cannons boomed when Mandela finished his speech, and the South African security forces—which will have to make the tenuous peace in the nation last—put on a spectacular five-minute show of aerobatics.
Then the party really began as 3,000 performers representing all the nation’s racial groups, sang and danced well into the night yesterday in a show themed: “South Africa—Many Cultures, One Nation.”
The problems facing Mandela and his new government are staggering: 40% unemployment, 50% illiteracy, widespread crime and political violence that has killed 11,000 people since 1990, ethnic polarization and the impatience of tens of millions of blacks demanding a better life now that apartheid is over.