By MICHAEL O. ALLEN and GENE MUSTAIN, Daily News Staff Writers | Sunday, May 1, 1994

JOHANNESBURG—It was a symbolic moment too rich to miss—the eclipse of apartheid and a new day dawning on black aspirations for power.

Under a full moon about two poignant minutes apart, before and after midnight one day last week, a white soldier lowered from the flagpole for the last time South Africa’s old flag and a black soldier raised its new colors.

“The old flag meant a lot to me, but I am prepared to serve under the new flag,” said Cpl. Anton Jooste, the white soldier.

Ballots from the week’s jubilant, chaotic and epochal elections are still being counted, but the winner is a foregone conclusion. Many expect the African National Congress to win in a landslide and its president, Nelson Mandela, to become South Africa’s first black president.

Mandela, 75, is much beloved and will need a reservoir of goodwill to tackle tasks ahead.

“We must work together because we have a common country,” he told an audience last week. “The ANC knows that the enemy of peace is unemployment, poverty and illiteracy.”

With his genial smile and grandfatherly presence, Mandela has been a reassuring symbol for South Africans these days. He calmly cast his first vote, then virtually took the nation’s leadership mantle even before it is officially his in several presidential appearances.

He is already wrestling with thorny foreign policy questions: what relationship will the new South Africa have with China and Taiwan? Israel?

Showing himself to be an adept politician who—upon his release from 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island—guided the negotiations on an interim constitution during four years of violent and bloody struggle, Mandela dodged all questions about his emotions this week.

The key job is to address the needs of the masses, he said repeatedly, as if in a mantra.

Much needs to be done, he told audiences across the nation, and the ANC’s Reconstruction and Development Plan is his blueprint.

“I will concentrate on those things which give hope to all South Africans,” he said. “We’ll start with creating jobs, building houses, providing free, compulsory, quality education. We will tackle these issues simultaneously, depending on the resources at our disposal. They are all very important.”

He speaks of the need to curb his nation’s soaring crime problem and tries to assure whites there is a place for them in the new South Africa while tempering black expectations of the new government.

The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, who is in South Africa as an election monitor, echoed Mandela’s exhortation to black South Africans. There would be very little measurable change in their lives, at least in the short term, Walker said.

“What you can measure is the most important part of the change,” he said. “That is the change in the spirit of the people. Now, they have a right to franchise. They have participated in the establishment of a government in which they have confidence.”

The toughest part of liberation now begins, Walker said. For the next generation, South Africans will have to grapple with the redistribution of land and wealth, a fairer participation of blacks in the economy of this mineral-rich country.

“They will have to learn on the job and it will be difficult,” he said. “There will be a lot of mistakes. I am convinced that the human spirit is resilient enough and that there is enough talent in the indigenous people of South Africa that they can manage. But, it won’t be easy.”

The immediate task facing Mandela is assembling a cabinet team to lead the new government, including possibly naming his estranged wife, Winnie, as minister of health and welfare.

Another difficult political fight looms for one of the executive vice president positions, which belongs to the ANC as leading vote-getter in the election. Mandela is known to favor his trusted protegee Thambo Mbeki. Cyril Ramaphosa’s work on the interim constitution, meanwhile, has catapulted him into the forefront of contenders for the second spot.

The National Party is expected to garner the second-highest vote total and name current President F.W. de Klerk as the other vice president. Also expected to play significant roles in the new cabinet are Pik Botha, the current foreign minister, and Roelf Meyer, who helped negotiate the interim constitution that the new constituent assembly will rewrite in the next three years.

“There won’t be power in just one party’s hand,” de Klerk said in his pugnacious style. “Power will be shared in a government of national unity.”

A measure of how far the ANC and the National Party have come from the days when the liberation fighters undermined the government and the “Nats” tried to break the ANC by sewing dissension among blacks, is that both parties now speak virtually the same language.

“What we will have to do is sink our teeth into a social and economic reconstruction program and get it working right from day one,” Meyer said, then struck the same theme of jobs, housing and education that the ANC campaigned on.

“Everything can’t be done in the first year, but once people know what to expect in five years, the expectations can be controlled,” he said.

Rather than fleeing the country, or cowering in their homes waiting for the black horde to take what they spent a lifetime accruing, Meyer said, whites are very much in the spirit of change that is sweeping the land.

“If we have to look at it from the white perspective, we can make a huge contribution irrespective of the numbers because our role has been accepted now by blacks. I’ve seen it in the constitution-negotiation process,” he said.

But it is at the level of symbols that people take their omens and, as the old flag came down the flagpole to the tune of the current national anthem “Die Stem” and hoots and jeers from about 300 spectators, Lesley Blake cried for the old South Africa.

“My family are Afrikaans, we come from the Cape,” Blake, 24, said. “That anthem, it means from our blood, from our hearts. The old flag is my idea of patriotism, until I grew up and realized that it was a little more complicated than that.

“For white South Africans, we do believe that it is our land too. I hope there is still a place for us here, somewhere.”

Then the African Jazz Pioneers struck an infectious rendition of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the hymn most associated with the liberation struggle. Blake stuck her fist in the air in the manner of ANC salute and sang enthusiastically.

“Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrica is a beautiful anthem,” she said.