By GENE MUSTAIN and MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writers | Tuesday, May 3, 1994
JOHANNESBURG—Invoking the epic cry of another great liberation struggle, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress proclaimed South Africa “Free at last.”
With only about half the ballots counted and the conclusion foregone, they claimed victory in the nation’s founding election, then vowed to roll up their sleeves immediately and begin improving the lots of millions of impoverished blacks.
“This is a joyous night for the human spirit, you have ended apartheid,” Mandela told a joyous throng of supporters at a downtown hotel. “Now is the time for all South Africans to join together to celebrate the birth of democracy.”
At the end of the victory speech, Mandela, the former political prisoner who will become the nation’s first democratically elected president on Friday, paid homage to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whose widow, Coretta Scott King, was in the audience.
“Free at last,” he and other ANC leaders chanted, borrowing from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”
Mandela’s victory claim—and his promise to begin bringing blacks jobs, homes and educational opportunities equal to whites—touched off exuberant celebration on the streets of Johannesburg and cities across the country.
Mandela, looking presidential in a pinstripe suit, blue shirt and striped tie, offered olive branches to his former enemies while stressing that his African National Congress intends to enact changes that will uplift the nation’s black majority.
Mandela said the ANC will soon begin to implement its national reconstruction and development program, which calls for the construction of 2.5 million homes within five years and the delivery of water and electricity to 5 million people in the countryside and in squatter communities.
Saying how moved he was by the images of newly enfranchised voters standing in line patiently for hours to get inside crowded polling places, Mandela said the ANC is here to honor our promises.”
“If we fail to implement this program, that will be a betrayal of the trust the people of South Africa have invested in us,” he said.
Mandela’s immediate task is to assemble a cabinet to lead the new government, and a political battle is already looming over the executive vice presidential slots.
President F. W. de Klerk is expected to serve as one of two vice presidents, and in his concession speech he made clear that he expects to maintain a powerful presence in government.
Mandela’s protégé Thambo Mbeki is expected is favored for one of the slots. However, fellow ANC official Cyril Ramaphosa also is seen as a strong candidate following his work on the interim constitution.
Mandela’s estranged wife, Winnie Mandela, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for minister of health and welfare.
De Klerk, whose National Party trailed the African National Congress by at least 20% in most regions of the country, said that the toughest part of Mandela’s liberation journey lies ahead.
“Mr. Mandela has walked a long road and now stands at the top of the hill,” he said. “A traveler would sit down and admire the view, but a man of destiny knows that behind this hill lies another hill, and another. The journey is never complete.”
Just as de Klerk began to repeat his remarks in Afrikaans, the language of the architects of apartheid, the lights failed and he spoke in darkness.
But the dawn of a new era was just beginning for Mandela, who allowed himself a moment to bask in victory yesterday. Despite suffering from a cold, he took a sip of champagne—and broke into a grandfatherly rendition of toyi-toyi, the traditional dance of celebration.