PRESIDENT-ELECT Nelson Mandela ended a long walk to freedom yesterday when he emerged on the red-carpeted steps of Parliament in Cape Town as the country's first democratically elected leader.
``Today we are entering a new era for our country and its people,'' Mr. Mandela told a jubilant crowd of tens of thousands who had been awaiting his arrival at Cape Town's historic Grand Parade, where he made his first speech in February 1990 after being released from 27 years in prison.
President Frederik de Klerk, the outgoing leader Mandela first described as ``a man of integrity'' at the same place four years ago, took a low profile on the balcony next to First Deputy President-elect Thabo Mbeki.
``Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa,'' Mandela said after his election.
``We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table - not as conquerors prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.''
Mandela said that the ANC remained committed to the spirit of a government of national unity but was also determined to bring about the changes demanded by its supporters - a task that would require determination and effort.
Earlier, Mandela emerged from the majestic Victorian-styled Parliament flanked by Mr. Mbeki and Mr. De Klerk.
Mandela and Mbeki stood motionless with their right hands on their hearts as a military band played Die Stem (The Voice) - the old national anthem that became a symbol of apartheid - followed by Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa), the African anthem that symbolized the anti-apartheid struggle.
The two anthems will enjoy equal status under the government of national unity that is to be installed today following Mandela's inauguration in Pretoria, the administrative capital, before a crowd of more than 100,000 people.
The gathering will include one of the biggest assemblies of world leaders - more than 150 kings, princes, government leaders, and senior officials among 5,000 dignitaries invited to attend the historic occasion.
Mandela's election by the first democratically elected Parliament swept aside 200 years of history, including the European conquest of the past century and 84 years of white rule under first, the Union of South Africa, and later the Republic of South Africa.
Mandela was elected unopposed by a Parliament dominated by a colorful array of former freedom fighters and anti-apartheid activists who reflected an astonishing ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.
The emotion-charged occasion took place in the brightly colored horseshoe chamber - with an African-inspired geometric carpet in yellow, green, orange, and brown as the centerpiece. The chamber was created for joint sittings of the former three-house Parliament, which included representatives of the white, Indian, and ``colored'' (mixed race) minorities.
Tribal dance on the floor
The new era was symbolized by two dramatic events.
The first was the appearance of a praise singer from Mandela's Xhosa-speaking Tembu tribe, who came onto the Parliament floor dressed in tribal beads, a white skirt, and sandals, and carrying a ceremonial fly-whisk and sticks to sing praises of the new president.
The second was the election as speaker of Parliament of the African National Congress's Frene Ginwala, a leading feminist and head of the National Women's Coalition.
The 400 new legislators and 90 senators rose and clapped when Mandela and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi embraced on the Parliament floor before start of the formal proceedings to swear in the new legislators.
Among those who took up their seats on the ANC benches in the new Parliament was Melanie Verwoerd, wife of Willem Verwoerd, grandson of the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd; the latter was assassinated by a parliamentary messenger in the whites-only chamber in the same parliamentary building in 1966.
Gen. Constand Viljoen, leader of the right-wing Freedom Front and former head of the South African Defense Force, took his Parliament seat for the first time.
Joe Modise, former head of the ANC's military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) and now defense minister-designate, took a front-row seat. Limpho Hani, widow of the slain ANC leader Chris Hani, was among the legislators sworn in by Chief Justice Michael Corbett.
It was the first time in the country's 342-year history that the legislative authority was not dominated by representatives of the white minority.
The new South African flag - a bright symbol of the new South Africa that contains the black, green, and yellow colors of the ANC - fluttered from Parliament flagpoles.
Tutu proclaims freedom
``This is the day of liberation for all of us - black and white,'' proclaimed Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu from the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall, as he overlooked the Grand Parade where Mandela made his first address after being elected president by the first majority Parliament.
``Today we are free,'' shouted the Nobel Peace Laureate, who was resplendent in his magenta cassock and matching skull-cap.
``We have become one people. We are the rainbow people of God,'' an ecstatic Tutu proclaimed before Mandela addressed the colorful crowd.
The crowd, which had been entertained by various jazz and rap groups while Parliament went through the formalities, was led in the singing of the peace song as people waved outstretched arms in a swaying motion.
``South Africa we love you,'' the song rang out at the foot of Cape Town's picturesque Table Mountain. ``Our beautiful land. Let us show the whole world we can bring peace to our land.''