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Capturing the Celebration of the Century!

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Extra, Extra read all about it!
The Audience:

  • Jermaine Jackson, brother of Michael and singer in the original Jackson Five!
  • Chris Tucker, popular Hollywood star of films, like "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan!
  • Kings, presidents, and prime ministers from 130 countries!
  • 4500 dignitaries invited from all around the world!
  • 50,000 people watching from the lawns below!
  • Odyssey World Trek Team members Monica and Kavitha!

The Event:
No, we're not at the 74th "Comrades" ultra-marathon, where 14,100 runners competed in a footrace 89.9 kilometers (55.738 miles) of grueling downhill from Pietermaritzurg to Durban, although that was happening at the same time. No, we're not at the Bafana Bafana (South African team) vs. Zimbabwe soccer match -- that's later on in the day. Instead, we're at one of the greatest celebrations of the century: the 1999 South African Presidential Inauguration.

The President's Oath or Solemn Affirmation:

In the presence of everyone assembled here, in full realization of the highcalling I assume as President of the Republic of South Africa, I (Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki) swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold and solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always:

  • promote all that will advance the Republic and oppose all that may harm it; protect and promote the rights of all South Africans;
  • discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience
  • do justice to all; and devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people.
On June 2nd, South Africa held its second democratic national elections, and Thabo Mbeki, expected to succeed the much-beloved "Madiba," or Nelson Mandela, emerged as the winner of the presidential race. Head of the African National Congress, Thabo came to the stage in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Gauteng Province, to take his solemn oath today, June 16, 1999. At 11:20 am in the shade of a sunny winter day, Mbeki said the words that sealed his fate as President of the South African Republic. After the oath-taking, President Mbeki and Former President Mandela came to the stage in front of the lawn to address the nation: millions of television-viewers watched and heard the 21-gun salute, the civilian and military aircraft flying by, and the vast crowds of chanting South Africans saying: "Viva Mandela, Viva! Viva Mbeki, Viva! Viva the Youth of South Africa!" Today, June 16, has special significance as National Youth Day and the anniversary of the Soweto student uprising.

Kavitha and I had rented a car in Johannesburg and drove to Pretoria, (although it took me longer as I was getting used to driving on the left-hand side of the road: shift to 2nd! Shift to 3rd! No, not that lane! Move to the left! No, OTHER SIDE!!!!!!) to see the ceremony and the nine-hour People's Concert with local musicians like TKZee, Mdu, Bongo Maffin, Boom Shaka, Ringo Madlingozi, Brenda Fassie, Rebecca Malope, and others. We picked up my friend Candice and her friend Pete at home in a suburb of Pretoria, then drove to Victoria Station, where we all caught a bus to the Union Buildings.

The Flag flies high!
We walked a mile from the bus stop and Kavitha pointed out girls wearing the inauguration t-shirts. The beautiful shirts had a slogan "Faranani: Towards the African Century," and the bright colors of the new South African flag: red, green, blue, yellow, black, and white. "Faranani" is a Venda word that means "join hands." As we reached the lawns, the huge crowd of people (50,000 strong!), were milling about waiting for the new president to arrive. We squeezed our way through the crowd, watching the giant television screen to the left of the stage, looking in anticipation for the faces of Mandela and Mbeki.

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Looking towards the African Century!
After two popsicles and a bag of cheese puffs, I started to hear "Viva's!" from up front. The emcee, Mahlengi Bhengu, chairperson of the National Youth Commission brightly announced the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Mandela, as well as President and First Lady Mbeki. The crowd started to murmur, then roar as glimpses of the leaders appeared onscreen. Vicky Simpson appeared in a brilliantly-colored wrap dress and sang a welcome song, "Africa Dream," as the people around us swayed and waved their hands in the air.

12:30pm... Nelson Mandela arrived onstage! Kavitha pointed him out, and took his photo as he appeared on the large tv screen. I felt a glow of warmth similar to the aura I felt around Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another fighter for social change and the end of apartheid, six years ago on my first trip to Cape Town. Mandela just radiates strength, humility, and good cheer, and seeing him from a far distance is such a wonderful honor. Mandela gave a heartfelt goodbye to his people. Earlier, at a banquet in Pretoria, he had told the guests how he welcomed the opportunity, as of today, to work as an ordinary citizen. "But my days will be filled with content to the extent that hands are joined across social divides and national boundaries." He had said farewell to the banquet-goers by prophesying, "Though I shall not be seen as much as I have been, I shall be among you and with you as we enter the African Century." Then , he welcomed Thabo Mbeki by joining hands with him and raising their hands high, in a move that mirrored President F.W. de Klerk clasping Mandela's hands in welcoming him five years ago as the first president of a non-racially exclusive South African government.

Excerpts from Nelson Mandela's Address today -- June 16, 1999

"A little while ago we inaugurated our new president, Thabo Mbeki... Now the people have spoken. And all the leaders of our different political organizations have forgotten their differences and congratulated our new president and wished him good luck...

"The people of South Africa have spoken and elected their new president. It is now the task of the African National Congress and our new president to build the country.

"For years here our artists were confined to the townships and the ghettos of our country. But now all of you: mother, father, uncle, aunt, elder brother and elder sister...I expect all of you to be happy today..."

After Mandela's speech, Thabo Mbeki took the stage and cheered on the crowd, who followed his chanting: "Viva Madiba! Viva Madiba! Viva South Africa! Viva!" I thought we had left Latin America and Spanish behind but even here they say "viva."

And then the party began! First, Benjamin Dube sang "Madiba" in farewell to Nelson Mandela. A choir group that included kids of all colors, swayed to the music and clapped their hands. Then, Jermaine Jackson hopped up on stage and sang a duet of "We are free, free at last" with a South African singer. Finally, Chris Tucker in his trademark screeching voice welcomed everybody and told us to have a terrific time.

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Eating some South African delicacies.
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My new shirt and friend!
All this excitement got my tummy rumbling, so I towed Candice, Pete, and Kavitha towards the braai stands, where we found meals of boerwors (farmer's sausage), mieliemeal (corn mush), tomato and onion sauce, and beets and greens. Over lunch, I bargained with Pitso, whose English name is "Conference," for his "Faranani: Towards the African Century" multicolored t-shirt.

After I put on the t-shirt, we started making our way back, slowly as we did not want to leave this unbelievable celebration. It turned out to be a fabulous day through and through, and we drove back to Johannesburg (on the left-hand side of the road) exhausted but happy. Viva South Africa, VIVA!


Shawn - Hluhluwe: Finding the "Big Five" Beasts of Africa
Abeja - Rugby and Pizza Hut---welcome to Africa!?!
Kavitha - South African Youth Enter the African Century.

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