NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA took the oath of office as South Africa's first democratically elected President on May 10 at a colorful ceremony witnessed by one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever assembled.
Mr. Mandela, flanked by his daughter Zenani in red dress and black hat, assumed the top post of his country after a lifetime of leading the struggle against exclusive white rule - 27 years from behind prison bars.
The inauguration took place in a festive atmosphere against a backdrop of relative peace, after more than a decade of political violence that has claimed about 20,000 lives.
Two sailors - one black, one white - raised the new national flag, and tribal praise-chanters wearing traditional robes added their good wishes, as did a leading poet. Prayers were offered by leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths.
``We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation,'' Mandela said in his speech after taking the oath. ``We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination.
``The time for healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.''
Second Deputy President Frederik de Klerk, who had taken the oath of office minutes earlier, and his wife, Marike, were the first to congratulate Mandela. In a short speech to tens of thousands of people gathered on the lawns after his inaugural speech, Mandela described Mr. De Klerk as ``one of the greatest sons of our soil,'' who had found himself a niche in South African history despite the fact that he was from the ruling class.
Mandela said that he, De Klerk, and First Deputy President Thabo Mbeki would work together to promote reconciliation and nation-building.
Speaking in De Klerk's Afrikaans language, Mandela said: ``Let us forget the past. What is done is done. Now that we have won, we have forgotten our differences and will move to heal the wounds of the past.
``Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted far too long must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.''
At a lunch for invited dignitaries after the inaguguration, Mandela again praised De Klerk for his ``personal courage, vision, honesty and integrity,'' and disclosed that each had on many occasions taken the other into his confidence regarding political problems.
``We said a lot of unkind things about each other in the elections,'' Mandela conceded. ``But now is the time for us to put together the borken pieces of our country.''
Mandela said that as well as a tradition of resistance in South Africa, there was a tradition of compassion, love, and loyalty.
``In the days to come, these are the forces that we are going to rely on,'' he said, adding that he had invited three of the white prison wardens whom he had struck up friendships with while in jail.
``I wanted them to share this because they had a part in it,'' he said.
Praise for security forces
Earlier, on arrival for his inauguration, Mandela made a point of shaking the hands of senior officers of the three arms of the armed forces and the police force.
In his speech, he praised the security forces for securing a climate conducive to holding the country's first all-race elections and promised that an amnesty for those imprisoned for past political crimes would be a top priority of the new government.
When Mandela resumed his seat after taking the oath, the crowd of some 5,000 dignitaries seated in the impressive amphitheater of the Union Buildings erupted into applause and the chanting of ``Viva Mandela.'' The 100,000 people on the lawns below the majestic sandstone building joined in.
``I feel great,'' said a black woman from Soweto.``I feel like a South African for the first time in my life.''
Vice President Al Gore Jr., and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton - who headed a 65-strong US delegation - were among senior officials, kings, and princes from 15O countries (including at least 60 heads of state) who attended the ceremony.
Cuba's Fidel Castro Ruiz, who was instrumental in blocking the military advance of South African forces aiding antigovernment, US-backed UNITA rebels in Angola, was given the most enthusiastic reception.
President Castro, one of the last dignitaries to arrive before Mandela, acknowledged the chants of ``We want Castro'' from the ecstatic ANC section of the crowd.
``It's a political miracle,'' Castro said of Mandela's achievement in reconciling South Africa's divergent forces shortly after his arrival in the country late May 9.
Asked whether he would use the occasion to meet Vice President Gore, Castro was noncommittal: ``You would have to ask him. He must have his own agenda.''
Another leader to cause a stir with his arrival was the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.
Crowds gathered on the lawn below the inauguration site waved balloons and flags and blew whistles when they recognized Mr. Arafat and Winnie Mandela on the huge video screen set up for the occasion.
Mandela's estranged wife was not originally included in the 90 people on the presidential podium, but she eventually took a place after someone gave up a seat.
On May 9, Mandela failed to acknowledge his wife when she briefly took a seat next to him in Parliament after nominating the ANC's Frene Ginwala as the new Speaker of Parliament.
Foreign heads of state were dominated by African leaders and elder statesmen like Tanzania's Julius Nyerere and former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos expressed the hope that the end of white rule could hasten peace efforts in war-torn Angola.
``We have completed the total liberation of the African continent...,'' Mr. Dos Santos said.
``The ANC's victory is not just for the South African people but also for all Africans.''