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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 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.

The Flag flies high!

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."

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Looking towards the African Century!
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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Eating some South African delicacies.

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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My new shirt and friend!
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!


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