No, we're not at the 74th "Comrades" ultra-marathon, where 14,100 runners competed in a footrace of 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.
Kavitha and I 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. On June 16, 1999, Thabo Mbeki became President of South Africa, as Nelson Mandela (at age 80) entered a well-deserved retirement.
We walked around 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."
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. Mandela made a beautiful speech and then Thabo Mbeki took the stage and cheered on the crowd, who followed his chanting: "Viva Madiba! Viva Madiba! Viva South Africa! Viva!" (Madiba is South Africa's pet name for Mandela!) 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. Thanks Chris!
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