Mandela takes office today

May 10, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa yesterday in the first sitting of the country's democratically elected Parliament, an emotional gathering that brought together the once-jailed and their former jailers to govern what is essentially a new nation.

The new president will be sworn in today in Pretoria at an elaborate inauguration that is attracting one of the largest gatherings of heads of state in history. Those dignitaries, including Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, arrived in a steady stream all day.

But yesterday was a special moment to savor in Cape Town, where the first white settlers landed more than three centuries ago. Four years ago, when Mr. Mandela last addressed a crowd that packed Cape Town's Grand Parade, it was just hours after he had been released from 27 years in prison.

Yesterday, he spoke to another crowd gathered at the same place,this time as South Africa's first black president.

The 400 members of the newly elected National Assembly met yesterday in the room where last December their predecessors had approved the ultimate act of this negotiated revolution, a new constitution that gave the vote to the country's 30 million blacks.

They exercised that franchise in a four-day election last month, overwhelmingly choosing Mr. Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), giving it 62 percent of the vote and thus 62 percent of the assembly seats.

Outgoing President F. W. de Klerk entered the chamber with Mr. Mandela just before the 11 a.m. start of the session. Mr. Mandela made a point of personally greeting the heads of each party represented in the body. He joined in a warm embrace with his rival, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

Though there were plenty of tears and laughter in the hall, the excitement of the moment eventually gave way to the cadence of procedure as, for about 45 minutes, the new members of Parliament came up, 10 at a time, to be sworn in by Michael Corbett, chief justice of the country's highest court.

The first group included Mr. Mandela, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and ANC stalwarts such as Joe Slovo, head of the South African Communist Party, and labor leader Jay Naidoo. They took their oath in English.

The second group sworn in included Mr. de Klerk, who is also a deputy president, and other leaders of his National Party, which got just over 20 percent of the vote, putting the party on the opposition side of the chamber for the first time since it took control of the government in 1948 and began instituting apartheid. They took their oath in Afrikaans.

It was on Feb. 2, 1990, that Mr. de Klerk stunned South Africa by announcing in this same room in his first speech to Parliament as president that Mr. Mandela was being set free and that the ban was being withdrawn from the ANC, setting in motion the process that led to yesterday's handover of power.

After all the members took their oaths, Mr. Mandela was nominated for president by Albertina Sisulu, wife of former ANC President Walter Sisulu. Both Sisulus have been friends and political companions of Mr. Mandela's for 50 years. The nomination was seconded by Cyril Ramaphosa, the secretary-general of the ANC, who was surprisingly left out of the proposed Cabinet.

With no other names put in nomination, Judge Corbett simply announced Mr. Mandela's election just before 12:15. The room erupted in applause and cheers that lasted for about a minute.

Frene Ginwale was then elected South Africa's first woman speaker of Parliament. She was nominated by Winnie Mandela, who briefly sat next to her estranged husband after making the motion. They did not acknowledge each other.

That was the day's only business, and the session adjourned after remarks from Ms. Ginwale and a prayer by a Muslim cleric.

Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk emerged from the Parliament building and stood on its steps, listening to a military band play the country's two anthems, the Afrikaner "Die Stem" and the Xhosa "Nikosi Sikelel' iAfrika," or "God Bless Africa."

Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk then moved a few blocks away, appearing on a balcony of the ornate City Hall, which was bedecked with bunting in the colors of the country's new flag. de Klerk appeared only briefly and then left the stage to his successor.

In front of Mr. Mandela, tens of thousands of people filled the huge grassy square called the Grand Parade, just as they had on Feb. 11, 1990, after his release from a nearby prison.

"Perhaps it is fitting that we are here at the Cape of Good Hope to lay the foundation stone of our new nation," he said, referring to the point of land to the south that divides the Atlantic and Indian oceans, a major navigational and meteorological obstacle for 17th-century European sailors plying the Oriental trade route and the African slave trade.

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